November 10th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon
On Wednesday night, Allegheny County passed regulations that place limits on opening burning within the county. The Council voted 9-4 in favor of regulations that would limit outdoor fires to burning only clean wood, propane, natural gas, charcoal, fire logs, wood pellets and smokeless fire starters. Fires also must now be at least 15 feet from the nearest property line. It’s a step in the right direction, but we need more.
The Clean Air Council and other environmental groups advocated for a ban on open burning. A recent report by Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) showed that homes nearly three football fields away (850 ft.) from a wood burning units had six times the level of particulates as control homes. While it is important to have regulations on burning and wood smoke pollution, a ban is the only measure that guarantees that highest level of protection for community members.
A strong comparison can be made between wood smoke pollution and second hand smoking. The Clean Air Council addressed this in written comments to the County Council.
The health risk factors of wood smoke parallel the risk factors of secondhand smoke from tobacco use. The lessons learned with tobacco, can be applied here to fully protect county residents from the risks of wood smoke and help change the social norms on the use of wood burning.
We learned our lesson with secondhand smoke, adopting smoking bans and made our air cleaner. Let’s now wise up to the dangers of wood smoke.
Some members of the County Council argued that regulations should not be passed because they would be hard to enforce. That is true and one of the reasons a ban makes more sense. A ban on all open burning is easier to enforce and is, more importantly, safer for the community.
Allegheny County is starting to get it right- these rules are important and are a small step towards addressing a bigger problem. But what we really need is a ban on open burning.
If you are experiencing wood smoke in your neighborhood- report it to your local health and environmental agencies with this easy app.
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.
Open Wood burning releases toxic pollutants such as particulate matter (PM)
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.
Open wood burning releases drastically more pollutant than other sources of energy. Source: Families For Clean Air
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.
Join the Campaign
Join Clean Air Council at the upcoming Allegheny County Health Department public hearing on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at 10:00 AM, to voice your support and present you comments on a No Burn Alternative in Allegheny County. The hearing will be held in the First Floor Conference Room at Building #7 of the Clack Health Center, 301 39th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 for proposed amendments to Rules and Regulations on Open Burning.
Click on the image below to view or download the entire fact sheet.
All wood burning produces particulate matter and hazardous chemicals. However, if you are going to burn wood, then it is important to make sure you are following the best practices. Proper techniques can minimize emissions and reduce threats to public health. Always make sure to:
- Use dry, seasoned wood.
- Burn hardwoods like oak, in place of soft ones like pine.
- Never burn trash, plastic or pressure-treated woods.
- Avoid using an accelerator like gasoline to start a fire.
- Don’t leave a dying fire to smolder. It produces more air pollution and presents a safety hazard.
- Check your local air quality forecast before you burn.
If you burn indoors:
- Keep air vents clear of ashes.
- Regularly clean your chimney or flue.
- Upgrade to an EPA-certified wood stove or fireplace insert. These burn cleaner, more efficiently, and emit less particle matter.
Read the full article from Pittsburgh Today by clicking here.
Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is set to offer incentives for home owners who replace out-dated wood burning stoves (WBSs) and outdoor wood-fired boilers (OWBs). New stoves and boilers must meet EPA emissions requirements, but many existing stoves are do not meet these standards. ACHD’s program aims to help home owners replace these older, less efficient, and more polluting units with new EPA Certified WBSs and OWBs, or cleaner electric or gas powered units. Allegheny residents can register before May 9th, 2014 to receive one of five $500 gift cards for an OWB or two-hundred $200 gift cards for a wood stove. Existing stoves must be turned into ACHD on May 17th to receive one of the gift cards, which are redeemable at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, GetGo and Giant Eagle.
For more information, check out the full article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.
On January 21, 2014 Clean Air Council attended a Regulation Subcommittee meeting of Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee to present a “No Burn” Model proposal to the committee to consider for revision of its open burning regulations. The suggestion was supported by the American Lung Association in a letter to the committee. Also attending the meeting in support of the model regulation was the Executive Director of Women for a Healthy Environment. By consensus vote the proposal was rejected by the committee which pursued options less protective of public health.
As a follow up, Clean Air Council attended the March 11, 2014 meeting of the Regulation Subcommittee. The Council did not comment on the specific wording changes of the regulation being addressed by the subcommittee proceedings. The Council did comment at the end of the considerations that protection of public health was not being maximized by the County’s revised regulation and objected that it was being recommended to the full Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee in its present form. The Chairman of the Regulation Subcommittee recognized the Council’s objection and invited comment in the public comment period after approval by the whole Advisory Committee.