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Friday, January 02, 2009

Guest Commentary: Research Sheds Light on Wood Burning

By Alan Kandel

Note: Alan Kandel did this article originally for the California Progress Report. Since this issue is coming on the city council's agenda for next week, it seemed like a good article to post here as well. The wood burning issue is not a Davis issue per se, it is an issue that many communities are having to grapple with due to state and federal regulations and new research that shows possible health risks of exposure to wood burning smoke. A Google search of the issue shows how widespread it has become in California particularly.

It’s 2009 and it is no secret - or it shouldn’t be a secret at this point for that matter - that the San Joaquin Valley - located in the state’s mid-section - has some of the worst air quality in the nation. I’m frequently reminded of this through newspaper articles, broadcast news accounts and through use of my own two eyes, nose and lungs. But not all is doom and gloom for just today in the Fresno Bee news article, “Valley wood-burning bans rise, deaths fall,” the message is that consistent with wood-burning bans initiated by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District beginning in 2003, in 2004, there were fewer recorded deaths that could be directly attributed to the burning of wood in fireplaces, stoves, etc.

Bee environmental reporter, Mark Grossi writes:
“The wood-burning bans are preventing at least 50 premature deaths each year in the Fresno-Clovis area and about 30 annually in Bakersfield, a new study suggests.

“The study was completed last month by David Lighthall, who is the health and science advisor for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.”
“Lighthall did the research while working as a scientist for the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno.”
According to Grossi and as I understand it, the scientist argues the stricter SJVAPCD air rule - regarding tightening fireplace wood-burning restrictions - “is justified.”

Making the connection between fewer deaths and more fireplace wood-burning restrictions, couldn’t have been easy. Nevertheless, the information is in the report, which can be found here.

Grossi writes:
“Mounting research shows the microscopic soot from wood burning is among the biggest air-pollution threats to the public. The specks, known as PM-2.5, can evade body defenses, lodge in the lungs, trigger many illnesses and result in premature death.”
Specifically, “fireplaces focus PM-2.5 where many people live,” Grossi reveals, something even I can affirm in my own neighborhood, especially on the evening of December 26th. Standing outside on my patio that evening was indeed a very unpleasant experience as the air was more heavily laden with woodsmoke than usual, presumably caused by more neighbors burning wood in their fireplaces than what would typically be the case.

Grossi notes also,
“To determine the impact of the air district’s burning bans, Lighthall studied PM-2.5 exposures in three years before the rule was passed.

“He found that 54 fewer people would have died in the Fresno-Clovis area if the burning bans had been called in 2001 and 2003 (sic)

“Sixty-three fewer people would have died in 2002.”
The incentive for or benefit of not burning wood in one’s fireplace with regular frequency or otherwise, should be obvious. Question is: Is it really?

This article originally appeared on the California Progress Report.