Healthy winter skies are becoming rarer

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Healthy winter skies are becoming rarer

Postby Wilberforce » Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:21 pm

Healthy winter skies are becoming rarer
9:39 AM
By Tony Eulo

In remembering the past, many of us fondly recall how plentiful resources seemed, how inexpensive food was at the grocery store, and how we could fill our gas tank for less than $20. We also can think back not too long ago when air pollution was just a concern during the summer. Well, just like getting gas for 50 cents a gallon, the days of air quality being just something we worried about in the summer are long gone. What has changed about the air?

As scientists and health professionals analyze air pollution's impacts on our health, they have discovered that very fine airborne particles are causing significant health impacts. Referred to as particulate matter, or PM, these fine particles are so small, about one-fifth the diameter of a strand of our hair or less, that they are invisible. These can be microscopic bits of dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets from factories, power plants, moving vehicle exhaust, construction, agriculture, fires and windblown dust.

Why we care

These fine particles can reduce resistance to respiratory infections, aggravate lung and heart disease, damage the body's defense systems against foreign substances, injure lung tissue, and help cut lives short. They can carry cancer-causing toxins deep into our lungs. The finer the particle, the deeper into our lungs it can go, bypassing all of our body's natural defense systems - and the longer it can stay to do its damage.

A winter time concern

Particulate matter is usually highest in the winter when smoke emissions from wood burning stoves and fireplaces are added to the mix. When there is an inversion layer, pollution hangs close to the ground becoming more and more concentrated. (An inversion layer occurs when a bed of warm air traps cold air near the earth - thus preventing pollution from dispersing into the atmosphere.) Wood burning is the single greatest source of fine particulate matter concentrations - contributing approximately 30 percent.

The Bay Area experiences its highest PM concentrations in the winter, especially during the evening and night time hours. During recent winters, the Bay Area Air Basin exceeded national air quality standards more than 10 days.

What this means

In short, we now know that we are frequently breathing unhealthy air during the winter and that wood smoke from fireplaces is a major source of the pollution. This isn't some remote problem impacting only low income people, only people in another region, or only people having fires, it's impacting each and every one of us here in Morgan Hill.

What we can do

While the simplest solution is to end the burning of wood, I realize that some people are very fond of burning wood.

So here are three things you can do to help:

* Sign up for Spare the Air alerts and don't burn wood on the Spare the Air nights when unhealthy air is predicted. See or call 1-800 HELP AIR to get information.

* Stop burning wood! Pollute less by finding a cleaner way to heat your home. Limit wood burning to special events, perhaps on holidays or when hosting a party, to reduce your impact.

* Switch to a gas fireplace or insert: Convert your fireplace to gas with a new gas fireplace insert.

* If you must burn wood, burn less: Reduce your heating needs by weatherizing your house. Replace your old woodstove or fireplace with a new certified model, and get more heat and less pollution while burning less wood.

* Change the way you operate your stove or fireplace: Burn only clean, seasoned wood and non-glossy white paper. Build small, hot fires instead of large smoldering ones. Burn seasoned cordwood. Watch your chimney for smoke and have it inspected often. Follow your wood heater's operating instructions carefully.

* And remember - It's Illegal to use your fireplace or woodstove when a winter Spare the Air Alert is in effect

Eco website of the week: There are a few relevant sites of interest relating to this topic. Chief among them is This site, produced by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, describes the Spare The Air program and provides you with an opportunity to subscribe to Air Alert e-mail notices. You will find information about the health impacts from smoke at ... _jan07.pdf.

Anthony Eulo is a Program Administrator for the City of Morgan Hill who removed the fireplace from his home. He welcomes your questions, comments, and thoughts and can be reached at 778-6480 or Significant amounts of this column were excerpted from theBay Area Air Quality Management District website.

source ... ming-rarer
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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