Every winter, “No burn days” in Maricopa County are met by responses that run from surprise to amiable adherence, to anger because of the perceived infringement on personal rights.
This winter will be no different. A recent prediction by forecasters reveals an extraordinarily dry and stagnant winter season, which means residents will be asked to refrain more often from burning wood in their fireplaces, fire pits and wood-burning stoves.
Forecasters describe the upcoming winter conditions as characteristic of “La Nina,” a dry ocean-atmosphere phenomenon. Such a dynamic will equate to inversion conditions and extremely high levels of air pollution that are only made worse by wood-burning.
Our air-monitoring stations at more than 20 sites across the Valley will be vigilant in tracking unhealthy levels of pollution. The stations report when there is potential for a violation and sets in motion a series of events to prevent an “exceedance” of the federal health standard.
For example, an alert system run by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality informs residents and businesses of a high-pollution advisory (HPA) or a health watch a day in advance. Residents can sign up at CleanAirMakeMore.com to get this information via e-mail or text message.
No Burn Day restrictions are issued by the county during a high-pollution advisory or health watch and last for a 24-hour period starting at midnight the day the forecast is issued. If the restriction is ignored, fines range from $50 up to $250 depending on the number of wood-burning violations an individual receives per year. Citizens can call 602-372-2703 to report violations, and they often do. Last year we received as many as 73 wood-burning complaints in one week.
Anticipated forecast aside, once people know the health impacts of burning wood, many may choose to forego the activity entirely. Wood smoke has been compared to diesel emissions. It contains fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide and various other irritant gases that can scar the lungs.
Particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs. Medical experts tell us particulate matter from wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children.
The health impacts are real. In otherwise healthy people particulate matter pollution can cause coughs, headaches, eye, and throat irritation. For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease and those with cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful – and even short exposures can prove dangerous.
Of all of the pollution sources, wood burning is one that each of us can control. Collective action will go a long way in helping our air.
This winter consider the facts, join Clean Air Make More and take action.