2010 Feb. 7: WA: Earthtalk: Backyard fire pits could be bad for environment

2010 Feb. 7: WA: Earthtalk: Backyard fire pits could be bad for environment

Backyard fire pits could be bad for environment

environment pollution February 8th, 2010

When fall sets in and the mercury starts to drop, many of uswant to extend our time outdoors, and sitting around a backyardfire pit has become one of the most popular means to do so. Buteven though it may be fun – s’mores anyone? – it is not good forthe environment, especially during times when air quality isalready poor.
It’s hard to assess the larger effect of backyard fire pits onlocal or regional air quality, but no one questions the fact thatbreathing in wood smoke can be irritating, if not downrightharmful. according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, socalled fine particles (also called particulate matter) are the mostdangerous components of wood smoke from a health perspective, asthey “can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they cancause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose andillnesses such as bronchitis.”
Fine particles also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases,and have been linked to premature deaths in those already sufferingfrom such afflictions. As such, the EPA advises that anyone withcongestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonarydisease, emphysema or asthma should steer clear of wood smoke ingeneral.
Children’s exposure to wood smoke should also be limited, astheir respiratory systems are still developing and they breathemore air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight thanadults.
Geography and topography play a role in how harmful wood smokecan be on a community-wide level. People living in deep,steep-walled valleys where air tends to stagnate should be carefulnot to light backyard fires during smog alerts or other times whenair quality is already poor. Lingering smoke can be an issue evenin wide-open areas, especially in winter when temperatureinversions limit the flow of air.
The Washington State Department of Ecology reports that about 10percent of the wintertime air pollution statewide can be attributedto fine particles from wood smoke coming out of wood burningstoves. While a wood stove may be a necessary evil as a source ofinterior heat, there is no excuse for lighting up a backyard firepit during times when you could be creating health issues for yourneighbors.
Another potential risk to using a backyard fire pit is sparkinga forest fire. Some communities that are surrounded by forestlandvoluntarily institute seasonal burn bans so that residents won’tinadvertently start a forest fire while they are out enjoying theirbackyard fire pits. If you live in one of these areas, you probablyalready know it and would be well advised to follow the rules.
If you must light that backyard fire, take some precautions tolimit your friends’ and family’s exposure to wood smoke. the MaineBureau of Air Quality recommends using only seasoned firewood andburning it in a way that promotes complete combustion – small, hotfires are better than large smoldering ones – to minimize theamount of harmful smoke.
The moral of the story: If you need to burn, burnresponsibly.
  • Wood smoke from backyard fire pits can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and bronchitis. The fine particles also aggravate heart and lung diseases. Children are especially vulnerable as their respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults.
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