Where There’s Smoke, There’s Pollution

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Pollution

Out here in Northern California, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD’s) winter “Spare the Air” campaign is really catching on. The agency has a new TV commercial, and runs ads asking people to “Check Before You Burn,” on the sides of buses.  We even hear people in restaurants talking about not burning on spare the air days.

Unfortunately, the take away message that many people seem to get from BAAQMD’s ad campaign is that wood burning is okay, except on those days during the winter when an alert is called.  The information that wood smoke is hazardous to everyone’s health, and that smoky fires are banned year round, is not getting through to the public.

Thanks to intense lobbying by FCA, BAAQMD finally took a step recently to expand its message beyond “Check Before You Burn,” inviting a San Francisco Chronicle reporter to ride along with a BAAQMD inspector on a non-Spare the Air day to hunt for violations of the “opacity rule.” The rule is quite simple.  It prohibits fires that emit smoke with greater than 20% opacity. Period.  Not just on “Spare the Air” days.  Every day of the year.  For everybody.

Unfortunately, that very simple, but extremely important information got buried in the reporter’s account of his ride along with an inspector who used his nose to “sniff out” opacity violations and who once found a dead deer in someone’s yard.  The reason for the opacity rule was never discussed at all.  The information never got through that the thicker the smoke, the more particulates it contains, and that particulates get deep into our lungs and can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.  Nor was there any mention that wood smoke contains dioxin and other toxic substances.

Admittedly, BAAQMD has no control over how a reporter writes a story. But, more fundamentally, BAAQMD needs to take the opacity rule seriously, get the right information out to the public, and then crack down on violators.

It’s time to get the rest of the message out about the serious health hazards of wood smoke.

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