2010 March 3: CA Bay Area (Marin County): Marin again leads Bay Area in bad-air complaints and warnings

2010 March 3: CA Bay Area (Marin County): Marin again leads Bay Area in bad-air complaints and warnings

Posted: 03/03/2010 05:32:02 PM PST
Updated: 03/03/2010 10:11:58 PM PST

Marin once again led Bay Area counties in both the number of complaints received and warning letters issued regarding wood smoke on "Spare the Air" winter days, according to data released Wednesday by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. This was the second year the district cracked down on people who burn wood on days when weather conditions make it likely that smoke will hang in the air and cause particulate pollution, making it hard for some people to breathe.

The district received 488 complaints from Marin residents about smoke during the seven days that "Spare the Air" alerts were declared. Based on those complaints, the district sent 65 Marin residents warnings reminding them of the no-burning rule.

"We have done an extensive amount of outreach in Marin," said Kristine Roselius, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, explaining the high totals. "There is an awareness in Marin."

The rule – which was in place from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28 – outlaws the use of wood-burning devices including fireplaces, pellet stoves, wood stoves and outdoor fire pits during winter dirty-air days. There was a hotline for smoke complaints, and the ban was enforced by air quality district patrols who cruised through neighborhoods looking for violators.

When cases were confirmed, violators received warning letters in the mail. A second violation resulted in fines. Eight, $400 fines were issued in the Bay Area, but none in Marin. Local police
agencies were not involved in the enforcement of air rules. The rule applies to the nine-county Bay Area region, which has a population of 6.9 million. Although Marin, with 246,500 people, accounts for just 3.5 percent of the region’s population, it accounted for 20.7 percent of the complaints lodged with the air quality district and 21 percent of the warning letters.

"Marin is very sensitive to the issue and is very health-conscious," said Marin Supervisor Hal Brown, a member of the air quality district’s board of directors. "The smoke can really settle in the Ross and San Geronimo valleys on some days. There is a greater awareness and discussion here."

On bad-air nights during the winter, smoke from fireplaces and woodstoves accounts for 33 percent of the particulate matter that pollutes the air, outpacing cars, which account for 23 percent of the pollution, according to the air district. Particulate matter measures about one-seventh the diameter of a human hair and can pass through the nose and throat and lodge deep in the lungs.

There was great interest in complying with the new clean-air rules. More than 100,000 Bay Area residents signed up for e-mail notices and 16,000 people signed up for automatic phone messages alerting them to no-burn days. Nearly 400,000 calls were placed to check the daily burn status.

According to air district preliminary survey data, 24 percent of Bay Area households reduced their wood burning because of the "Spare the Air" program and 70 percent of respondents indicated they supported the wood-burning regulations.

The air district was criticized for issuing an alert on Christmas Day, but officials noted the Bay Area didn’t exceed air quality standards on that day.

"Historically, our winter air quality is dirtiest during the holidays, but this year we were able to avoid exceeding the health standard by calling an alert on Christmas," said Jack Broadbent, district executive officer.

Added Roselius: "We can’t differentiate for the holidays. Our mission is to protect air quality and the public health."

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com

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