Smoke cops have dirty job, but we need them

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Smoke cops have dirty job, but we need them

Postby Wilberforce » Sat Dec 31, 2011 10:20 am

Friday, Dec 30 2011 11:00 PM
OUR VIEW: Smoke cops have dirty job, but we need them

Sure, it might seem inconsequential in comparison to other sources of particulate matter in this polluted valley. Sure, it might seem painfully ironic that enforcement officers are staking things out in idling cars. But the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's no-burn enforcement seems to have made a very real impact on valley air quality, and that's the only thing that matters.

The smoke police, those people who issue tickets to local residents in violation of the regional air district's residential wood-burning rules, have jobs no more glamorous than those of meter maids. But it's a necessary job. Judging by the occasional hostility they encounter, however, not everyone agrees.

Consider the tribulations of smoke cop Mike Oldershaw, who was once threatened by an indignant fireplace user wielding a kitchen knife. No doubt others feel the same way about no-burn enforcement. Such people need to consider these facts about the benefits of soot-free winter nights:

* Prior to when no-burn restrictions took effect in 2003, residential wood-burning was the single largest source of wintertime particulate pollution (PM 2.5) in the San Joaquin Valley. Valley air regulators are required under the federal Clean Air Act to reduce this pollution to healthy levels in a certain timeframe or pay a fine. The possibility of such a fine was once laughed off. That changed earlier this year, when it became a reality: The federal government fined the valley $29 million for failing to achieve attainment for a different pollutant -- ozone -- which is prevalent here in the summer. Who pays the $29 million? We do. It's been passed on to valley residents in the form of higher vehicle license fees.

* The no-burn rule has been extremely effective at reducing pollution. It's no coincidence that in recent years the valley has seen less and less wintertime pollution, and had fewer and fewer exceedances of federal standards, year-over-year. The number of no-burn days has decreased, too. Last year, there were 40 no-burn days in Kern County from Nov. 1 to the end of February, down from 41 the previous season and 54 in the 2008-09 season.

* The no-burn rule is cost-effective. It has virtually no costs associated with it. People must simply refrain from burning wood on certain days. By contrast, industry, agriculture and businesses in the valley have spent more than $40 billion in recent decades to comply with regional regulations to reduce pollution from their activities. It's patently wrong to ask these companies to pay more to reduce pollution when we can do things that cost nothing.

Yes, there is a small cost in terms of paying an enforcement officer like Oldershaw to patrol neighborhoods and ticket violators. No rule would be effective without the teeth of fines and enforcement. And it's not as if these officers spend 40 hours a week driving around town chasing smoke. There were just 40 days last year when wood-burning was prohibited in Kern County; air district enforcement officers would have been out patrolling only on those days.

Air pollution has real-world costs -- to businesses that must continually retrofit and replace equipment to comply with regulations and to valley residents in the form of health and collective health care costs. Studies have shown that on high-pollution days in the San Joaquin Valley, emergency room visits increase, more employees miss work and more kids stay home from school.

Oldershaw defends his job this way: "If this improves the lives of 4 million people, to me, this is a reasonable ticket."

We couldn't agree more.

source ... -need-them

Weather and rule breakers lead to smoky air despite Chico's burn ban
By KATY SWEENY - Staff Writer
Posted: 12/31/2011 12:07:34 AM PST

CHICO -- Stagnant, dry weather and residents not following the wood burning ban put Chico over a federal air quality standard 15 days in December.

The city imposed a ban this year on indoor wood burning for days forecasted to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. But pollution lingers.

"When you put in an advisory or the city ban, it's not like turning a light switch off or on," said Jim Wagoner, Butte County air pollution control officer. "You have to do your outreach and get people on board."

The fine particles resulting from wood burning can worsen respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, said Wagoner, who heads the Butte County Air Quality Management District.

The burn ban was in effect in the Chico city limits once in November and 15 days in December. The city exceeded the federal air quality standard for smoke twice in November and 15 times in December. Last year, there were six total advisories during the four-month period. Butte County has a voluntary advisory program.

The Chico City Council voted 5-2 in August to implement mandatory wood burning restrictions from November to March on days the particulate pollution is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Councilmen Bob Evans and Mark Sorensen dissented.

Exemptions to the ban are made for EPA-certified stoves with low emissions, people who make less than 80 percent of the area median income, manufactured logs in open fireplaces, and homes with no other source of heat or during power outages, said

Linda Herman, city general services administrative manager.

Herman said the point of the ban "is to get people to do the right thing."

If someone calls the city and reports that someone is burning on a restricted day, city staff checks the list of people who filed for exemptions, Herman said. If the home isn't in the books, city staff sends a warning letter informing the resident of the restrictions.

"Nobody is driving around looking for smoke," Herman said.

The code enforcement officers "have other things to do," she said.

The city has sent out about six initial warning letters but no second warning letters, Herman said. She thinks that is what city staff and council had hoped for, compliance after a warning. A third violation could warrant a citation.

Poor weather conditions have led the Air Quality Management District to issue more bad air quality advisories this year, Wagoner said.

"It's been really bad this year compared to last year," Wagoner said. "But you can't really tie that to the burn ban."

Without wind and rain to ventilate, the air stays stagnant and pollution lingers in the valley, Wagoner said.

The levels of fine particulate matter in the air dip during the day and peak at night, suggesting the pollution comes from residential wood burning rather than outdoor or agricultural burns, Wagoner said.

Herman thinks people want to follow the rules, she said. People have been calling the city to see if they are complying or if they qualify for an exemption.

"Word is really getting out," Herman said. "I really believe that the awareness is increasing every day."

Wagoner thinks it will take more than a season for the wood burning ban to make a big difference in the air quality, he said.

Herman thinks there's a learning curve to the ordinance, she said.

"It takes a while but it works, like any education program," Herman said. "I think it's too early to tell."

• 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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Re: Smoke cops have dirty job, but we need them

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