GUNNAR H. JENSEN: Wood burning fires impact the neighbors
Posted at 12:00 AM on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010
Thanks to the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District, this has been the best winter in years. For my family, "best" has meant the fewest number of early morning "wake-ups" caused by sore throats, coughing and difficulty breathing. It has also been the best for being able to actually go outside, hang out in the garage or backyard, all without that searing, burning in the throat and lungs associated with the acrid smell of wood smoke.
In no small part this thanks goes to the district’s enforcers who have patiently, diligently and professionally responded to numerous calls for assistance. These are the men and women whose difficult task it is to talk to, cajole, and eventually cite those residents who believe their right to burn trumps regulation.
The Bee and reporter Mark Grossi also share in this gratitude for the ongoing efforts to educate us all about the complex, and difficult mission to clean up our deadly air.
However, more effort is indicated.
In a Nov. 27 story, Mr. Grossi reported 800 pre-mature deaths in the Valley are blamed on PM 2.5, a constituent ingredient of wood smoke pollution. I believe I know something about those who are dying. I’ll bet those 800 people live (or lived) down wind of smoke emitting chimneys that go unreported, or undetected. (It is nearly impossible for enforcers to "gather evidence" of smoke emitted on foggy days, or at night.) These are areas where more could be done to reduce the ill effects of air pollution.
We no longer allow second-hand cigarette smoke in many venues, but do much less to respond to the dangers of wood smoke imposed on many people just trying to live in their homes.
For those of us living down wind of smoky chimneys, we truly are the "canaries in the coal mine." Why not treat us that way? I propose that, if it is not already, "human experience" ought to be factored into "No Burn Day" determinations. School districts’ accounting of sick days due to respiratory ailments, reported ER visits due to asthma and other respiratory problems, and yes, complaints phoned into the district — all these should be "weighted" in concert with ambient air quality measurements to become part of the determination process.
Enforcers should also be provided improved detection equipment to help them in their efforts to protect us from violations of wood and waste burning.
Investments should be made to augment residential adoption of cleaner heating technologies. Wood burning is expensive, labor intensive and dirty.
Finally, we are not angry with, nor do we dislike our neighbors who burn wood. To the contrary, in every other respect, ours are great neighbors. We even attempted once to coax one upwind neighbor with a six pack of Heineken. We tried to explain that we had spent thousands on new windows, HVAC "hepa" filters and systems to reduce the effects of smoke coming from his chimney.
Nothing. He said he could do nothing because he has the right to heat his home with wood. We’re still hopeful he will one day see we should also have a right to breathe in ours.