Burning Issue

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Burning Issue

Postby Wilberforce » Wed May 21, 2008 12:12 am

Burning Issue
Firepit season has arrived. For some folks, it's enough to take their breath away

Chris Zdeb, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, May 19

EDMONTON-Fire bans aside -- as in Edmonton on the weekend -- nice weather tends to bring the smoky
aroma of open fires.

For some people, a campfire or flaming backyard fire pit signals the return of fun times and the lazy, crazy,
hazy days of summer.

But not everybody is crazy about the haze.

For one Devon woman, the burning season heralds another summer of weekends of unpleasant air
that makes it hard to breathe. Besides neighbours burning leaves, she has to contend with a campground
in the river valley below her that can have as many as 200 campfires burning at one time.

"When the weather is right, and the wind is blowing in the right direction, smoke is just billowing up from
the river valley. If I go for a walk in the river valley, walking back up it's quite steep, and you need your
breath. In the summer time you can hardly do that because there is so much smoke in the air. It feels to
me very unhealthy," says the woman, who did not want her name used.

Smoke is a respiratory and eye irritant, says Steven Probert, senior advisor of air quality with Capital Health.
It can inflame respiratory membranes resulting in shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. It can trigger
asthma and allergy attacks in the people who have those conditions.

Anybody with an existing respiratory or cardiovascular condition falls into the broad category of being
"more susceptible" to smoke's irritant effect, and that would be most people, Probert says.

"Tobacco smoke contains 4,000-plus chemicals. Well, wood smoke is not tobacco smoke, but at the same
time, it contains an abundance of different substances, and if you inhale enough of it over a long period,
it can have some serious consequences."

In some cases, prolonged exposure to smoke has been linked to cancer in Third World countries, where
people use high concentrations of wood, coal or biomasses such as dung as a fire source and cook with
their heads over an open fire, in an enclosed area, for most of their lives. In North America, such a link
has only been made to firefighters who have worked in and around smoke throughout a long career,
Probert stresses.

Most people, for whom a campfire, fire pit, even an indoor fireplace cause no problems or only minor
irritation and inflammation, don't understand those who complain about it.

"A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that we're not all the same,"
Probert says.

"They assume, if it's good for me, the air is fine, because they don't understand individual susceptibility.

"But if you're someone with COPD (a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as bronchitis or
emphysema), who struggles from day to day to just breathe, never mind throwing a bunch of crap into
the air, for those people, the impact is significant."

Fire lovers and smoke haters usually tend to clash in the confines of cities, during hot, sunny days that
result in ozone formation causing air pollution to build up.

The situation is made worse in Alberta on bad-air days, when there are forest fires, Probert says.

Some places in North America, such as Spokane, Wash., regulate what is burned, where it's burned,
when it's burned and how it's burned, so there are burning bans on bad air days.

Saskatoon city council recently voted for a midnight curfew on open-air burning of seasoned wood.

Fire pits are banned altogether in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.

You can't burn rubber or plastic in Edmonton. And Capital Health has asked all municipalities in its area
to ban coal burning at a residential level, but no steps have been taken to ban wood burning.

As long as clean, dry wood is used and the firepit conforms to the city's bylaw, a fire can burn any time,
for any length of time.

To keep open fires under control, Albertans need to be aware of their neighbours, and considerate of
them, Probert says.

If you're someone who loves your fire, but you live next door to someone with COPD or someone who
has expressed concern about smoke getting into their eyes or their home, be considerate, Probert advises.

Don't burn wet fuel -- wet wood, green wood, leaves and other yard waste -- that results in poor combustion
and more smoke, which is more likely to cause associated health effects. If your fire is burning properly,
there should be minimal smoke.

Burning treated wood, manmade wood such as plywood, an old fence that has been stained or painted,
or old power poles with creosote or some other preservative are also big no-nos, Probert says.

"All those chemicals that go into that preservative get volatized and released into the air, and these are
things you don't want to hang over your head."

The biggest concern is smoke containing fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in aerodynamic
diameter, which gets past the body's respiratory-defence mechanisms and penetrates down to the lungs,
where it can do the most damage, Probert says.

"The worst-case scenario is a situation where there is next to no wind and people light their fires around
suppertime and burn until midnight. Basically, that smoke just sits there and continues to accumulate,
and so does the concentration, which is more likely to cause problems for people."

Ryan Pleckaitis, senior municipal enforcement officer with the city, says his department gets about 25
complaints a month about firepits during the summer. The number is increasing as the city grows.

Probert recommends people who have a problem with a neighbour's smoking fire should approach them
in a diplomatic way and try to find a common solution. "I know that's asking a lot of some people, but I
think that's what we have to do until such time as there are some regulations."

If that fails, residents bothered by smoke can contact bylaw enforcement.

"An open fire is a luxury, so try not to abuse it," Probert says.

Burn in moderation -- don't burn 24/7; don't burn garbage, don't burn bonfires -- bigger fires mean
more smoke, he says.

czdeb@thejournal.canwest.com
© The Edmonton Journal 2008

original article:
Burning Issue
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Postby turning_blue » Wed May 21, 2008 7:06 am

Good article! If only these people had to build a fence around their fire pit arena, like they do for a pool. But, these fences would be solid and very high so the smoke would stay with the burners. This way they could really enjoy all that their lovely pits have to offer. They would object to this though. If we asked them why they object to the fence, wonder what their reason would be? :idea:
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