Op-Ed: Don't Burn That Fire

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Op-Ed: Don't Burn That Fire

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Feb 27, 2011 7:03 pm

Opinion, Government
Op-Ed: Don't Burn That Fire

Wood smoke is a health and environmental hazard.
February 26, 2011

Mill Valley Patch welcomes your Letters to the Editor or longer guest op-ed columns, which can be emailed to me at jimw@patch.com. The following column was written by Fairfax resident Greg Nudd.

Ah, Fairfax! Beautiful verdant vistas, a Green Party majority on the town council, “fish crossing” signs over the creeks, wildlife wandering through the neighborhoods, green team out in force at the elementary school, and a noxious mix of harmful particulates and gasses from wood fires choking the air every time the temperature drops.

I get the appeal of wood fires, I really do. The smell brings back good memories (at least until I start choking). There is a kind of primal connection with the fire. It's fun to make s'mores.

But really, we’ve evolved. We don’t need the fires to scare off bears anymore. There are safer and cleaner ways to heat our homes. Much as I hate writing checks to PG&E, I’d rather do that than fumigate my neighbors with particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, formaldehyde and dioxins. Oh, and don’t forget black carbon, one of the most significant drivers of global climate change and a major factor in arctic sea ice loss.

“But Greg,” you say, “all that smoke, it goes up the chimney and away!” Um, no. Not really.

As the Green Team at Manor School will tell you, there is no “away," particularly on cold settled days in our valleys, the smoke just sticks around between ridges at ground level. Studies have shown that as much as 70 percent of the smoke re-enters your house and your neighbor’s houses. When you burn in your fireplace, the hot gasses and smoke rise up your chimney and create a negative pressure that sucks cold and smoky air back into your house from the outside.

Now let’s talk about kids: my kids, your kids, the happy little people that you see lined up at the Scoop. Wood smoke is harmful to children. This is not controversial. This is not a question that requires further study. This is established scientific fact. Here’s a quote from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet on the health effects of wood smoke:

“Many studies . . . have concluded that young children living in homes heated by a wood-burning stove had a greater occurrence of moderate and severe chronic respiratory symptoms than children of the same age and sex who did not live in homes heated with a wood burning stove. Exposure of preschool children living in homes heated with wood burning stoves or in houses with open fireplaces yielded these effects: decreased pulmonary lung function in young asthmatics; increased incidence of acute bronchitis and severity/frequency of wheezing and coughing; and increased incidence, duration, and possibly severity of acute respiratory infections.”

I could continue with my ranting and talk about how wood smoke creates a haze of fine particles that obscure our treasured views. But, no need: look for yourself the next clear cold day. Can you see as much of Mt. Tam as you can on a clear warm day? (You should really be able to see it more clearly since the humidity is lower on cold days.) This haze is especially a problem during the winter holidays. Some clear mornings in late December, you could barely see Mt. Tam from downtown Fairfax, and wood smoke is the variable factor that makes the difference.

Now, I’m sure that some of you so greatly treasure your crackling fire that you remain unmoved by my arguments. So, here’s one last appeal from my soapbox: please burn cleaner at least. Start by only burning dry wood. It should be seasoned outdoors throughout the summer for at least six months and have no more than 20 percent moisture content. Wet wood burns cooler and creates more pollution than dry wood. Next, if you heat with a stove, make sure it is EPA certified. These stoves are much cleaner and more efficient.

Greg Nudd is a Fairfax dad and an avid but unskilled mountain biker. He’s also an environmental engineer with 19 years experience in air pollution control specializing in combustion, particulate matter pollution and reducing regional haze. He only speaks for himself. So don’t blame his employer, wife or kids.
Do you burn wood fires? Tell us in the comments.

http://millvalley.patch.com/articles/op ... -that-fire
• 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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