Smoky air can harm dogs and cats, too, say vets and pollution experts
By Denis Cuff
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/07/2012 05:32:44 PM PST
Updated: 02/07/2012 06:00:53 PM PST
Spare the air. Spare the human health. Now, spare the pets.
You've heard of the no-wood-burning alerts on bad air days this winter to protect people in the Bay Area, but there are others to guard from the smoke as well -- cats, dogs and horses.
Fido and Fluffy can have lung and bronchial ailments aggravated by wood smoke on Spare the Air days, veterinarians and air pollution officials say.
"I think wood smoke can be a big issue for pets, much like secondhand smoke," said Dr. Suzanne Lee, a veterinarian at the Alamo Animal Hospital. "You've got to assume that smoke affects them, but pets don't complain as much as people do."
She estimated that as much as 10 percent of her cat patients have asthma -- a condition aggravated by allergens, dust and smoke.
She cautions anyone with asthmatic cats to keep their pets indoors on Spare the Air days, when smoke and other fine particles in the air are predicted to exceed the federal health standard for humans. Spare the Air alerts have been issued on 15 days so far this season in the Bay Area.
Lee is not alone in her concern about smoke and pets.
The Bay Area's air pollution district and Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation held a media briefing Tuesday at the ARF shelter in Walnut Creek to talk about smoke effects on pets.
ARF diagnoses asthma and respiratory problems in some cats during health checkups before the animals are put up for adoption.
On Spare the Air days, shelter workers cut back on outdoor exercise for dogs to give the animals' lungs a break.
"Wood smoke can affect our lungs, whether we have two legs or four," said Elena Bicker, ARF's executive director.
Rescue foundation workers diagnosed asthma in a cat named Samantha, but it didn't deter Sue DiMaggio Adams, of Walnut Creek, from adopting the feline.
In an email, Adams said she gives her cat a half-pill of medicine daily and "keeps her indoors for sure on Spare the Air Days."
Kristine Roselius, an air district public information officer, gave daily inhaler medication to her asthmatic tabby cat named Tres during the last four years of its 14-year life.
"It wasn't easy to keep the mask on at first, but Tres got used to it," she said.
Roselius had thought hairballs were causing her cat's wheezing spells. A veterinarian determined otherwise during an emergency hospital treatment for what turned out to be an asthma attack.
Horses also can be vulnerable to asthmalike ailments aggravated by smoke and other pollutants, said Kenneth Allison, a veterinarian who treats racehorses at Golden Gate Fields in Albany and the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.
"Anything that can irritate their lungs is going to make them more susceptible to diseases," he said.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267.
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Spare the Air alerts make air district public enemy No. 1 -- but there's a reason behind those no-burn days
By Rick Hurd
Contra Costa Times
© Copyright 2012, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 02/05/2012 08:31:13 PM PST
Updated: 02/06/2012 06:21:30 AM PST
SAN FRANCISCO -- Oh, the weather outside was frightful: Clear, sunny skies mixed with a crisp bite of cold air, no wind and a high-pressure "bubble" keeping out clouds and precipitation.
Kristine Roselius probably would have preferred snow gusts or sleet.
Roselius is the public information officer at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the agency that decides whether air conditions are healthy enough for wood to be burned. On many days this winter, that has made her a public enemy for anyone sporting a keyboard and an opinion, as the emails flooding her inbox can attest.
"Congratulations, you've RUINED EVERY Holiday DAY this season for us. ... You must be proud. ... Free country my butt. Gotta love this Communist state of California."
Roselius' inbox has been overflowing since November with emails like that. She is not the one who determines when air quality is bad enough to trigger a Spare the Air alert -- agency meteorologists such as Curt Malone, with his three decades of experience, do that -- but in most cases, she is the messenger.
But she would like to give the public a couple of other messages, too.
For one, the agency doesn't call Spare the Air alerts on a whim. The air district runs through a book of procedures that must be followed once an alert is issued. The book is hundreds of pages long and so thick "it goes thump" when it hits the ground, Roselius said.
Second, the alerts, which ban those without exemptions from burning wood in fireplaces, pellet and wood stoves, fireplace inserts and outdoor fire pits, are issued only when "particulate matter" -- pollutants in the air similar to what comes from diesel exhaust -- are too deadly to ignore.
That's been the case a lot this season; the agency has issued 15 Spare the Air alerts since Nov. 1, the start of a winter season that has seen hospitals throughout the Bay Area reporting almost double the normal admissions for cases of asthma.
"Particulate matter is very dangerous, and it can have devastating health consequences," Roselius said. "Really, it's public enemy No. 1 as far as air pollutants. We don't issue a Spare the Air alert lightly. We issue them because they're truly in the best interest of the public's health."
For those with asthma, the alerts are welcomed.
"I can tell you that I've felt more stuff in the air this winter," said Eda Goff, a Concord resident who has had asthma for more than 35 years. "When the air doesn't get blown around, it doesn't matter if it's cold or hot, it's hard to breathe."
Still, the public doesn't seem all that welcoming of the agency's concern, as those emails show.
"You people are a bunch of (expletives) hellbent on taking any joy out of life and disallowing us the right to make our own choices. ... MIND YOUR OWN PERSONAL LIVES AND LIVE AND LET LIVE. WE WILL RISE AND REVOLT AGAINST YOUR COMMUNIST WAYS."
Malone became a meteorologist 30 years ago and joined the air quality district a decade ago. He studied weather at San Jose State University, was an aviation forecaster for the Air Force and later worked for a company that provided forecast information for ocean routes used by ships.
He normally is up by 5:30 a.m., studying computer models and charts of the atmosphere that he updates hourly. His job, in essence, is to apply the scientific numbers he sees to find trends in the atmosphere that suggest a buildup of particulate matter is coming.
He does not fancy himself a communist, only "a messenger, too."
And the message he brings is that if the agency seemed out of control with its Spare the Air alerts in December, it's only because the Bay Area was under the control of a stubborn weather system that forced alerts to be issued on Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Day.
"You're a bunch of (bleeping bleeps) banning fires on Christmas Day, when families traditionally enjoy one lousy fire together. You give environmentalism a bad name."
December brought a high-pressure system that "dominated" the atmospheric conditions, Malone said. And the unusually low temperatures -- 19 of 31 days in December had minimum temperatures at freezing or below -- trapped dirty air near the ground because of that high pressure.
When temperatures began to warm just after New Year's Day, air became less dense, and the particulate matter became less concentrated. The result: No Spare the Air alert since Jan. 14, and a forecast from Malone that says more good-air days are in the offing.
All of which may appease the masses, but only until the next alert goes out.
"You (expletives) are a disgrace to this country. ... You belong in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia."
"I guess it's like they say," Roselius said. "You can't please everyone."
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