October 7th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon
Wood burning issues are making news in Allegheny county. The County Council will vote in the coming weeks on revised open burning regulations proposed by the Allegheny County Department of Health. When you think of air pollutants, wood smoke may not be top of mind, but in Allegheny County, over a third of all health complaints about air quality were related to wood burning.
The toxicity level of wood smoke is often compared to that of cigarette smoking. Burning wood or biomass gives off high amounts of carbon, nitrogen, sulfuric oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. These pollutants cause a whole host of problems from respiratory and asthma illnesses to a greater risk of heart complications. We would never want to expose a child to the dangers of second hand cigarette smoke, and the same logic should apply to the dangers of wood smoke pollution.
These new regulations would take very moderate steps to addressing a large problem. The proposed rule states that no materials other than clean wood, propane or natural gas could be burned and open burning must occur at least 15 feet from the nearest neighbor’s property line, roadway or sidewalk. 15 feet is still way too close to vulnerable neighbors. A recent study showed that homes 240 feet away from wood smoke pollution had particulate level twelve times the levels of control homes, eight times above the EPA air standard level.
The issue of wood smoke pollution comes down to a simple principal: the golden rule. The pollution created by burning wood and biomass creates a very serious threat to the neighbors and community members who live within close proximity. We have to think of our neighbors and the harm we are doing to them.
The regulations proposed in Allegheny County are a first step to protecting the members of the Allegheny community from the threat of wood smoke pollution but they do not do all they could to alleviate the problem. The best way to protect public health is by instating a ban on open burning.
Are you one of the thousands of people afflicted by wood smoke pollution? Submit a health complaint using this online forum.