Wood burning and air pollution

As we enter into the winter months...some Utahn's begin to put wood in their fire place or a wood burning stove to generate heat, or just for the ambiance of a wood burning fire.  But some are asking...what's the impact those wood fires are having on the air we breath?


"We found that if there's really one specific pinpoint polluter, that we can solve the problem, it's wood burning," said former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who now is the Executive Director of UCAIR.

During bad air quality days wood burning is against the law, except for those who rely on it as their only source of heat.  New guidelines are being considered to puff out Utah's wood burning pollution altogether.

"We know that there are two reasons to do this.  One is that wood burning of course impacts the overall regional air quality.  But also it particularly impacts local neighborhoods," said Bryce Bird who is the Director of Utah Division of Air Quality.

For many people it isn't an issue...but for children...the elderly...and those with medical conditions, it can lead to all kinds of health consequences like coughing, headaches, eye and throat irritation, asthma attacks and even heart attacks and strokes.

"So the person that's burning the wood is getting exposed to a greater extent, and the neighbors who live close by are getting exposed to a greater extent.  And we know that the child who has asthma, that can't go out and play, is being impacted by somebody burning in the neighborhood," said Bird.

Up to 70 percent of the wood smoke that exits a chimney, will re-enter nearby homes.

"One fire burning for an hour, an average size home fire, running for an hour equals four diesel trucks running for the same hour," said Wilson.

"For every hour 90 SUV's drive, that's about one hour of burning a wood burning appliance," said Bird.

The particulates in wood smoke are tiny and even doors and windows cannot keep them out.  The pollution from just one wood burning stove is equal to the amount emitted from 3,000 gas furnaces.

"We know that wood burning made a lot of sense in our valley for a long time.  But once we get a large population center where we get many people burning in a neighborhood, or in an area, we know that it impacts air quality.  And maybe it's just time to look at other options, and that's what we are really opening right now is the dialogue," said Bird.

While UCAIR works closely with partner organizations, it also seeks community involvement to find solutions to our air quality challenges.

Wilson says it may be tempting during the holidays to fire up the fireplace, but asks that we consider the impact it will have on the air.

"During the inversion, even if it's Christmas Eve, it might be a good idea to think twice about burning wood."

To get involved and learn more about UCAIR, visit them at http//:ucair.org

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