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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Wood Burning Ban Discussion Turns Up the Heat

The headline reads:

"Smoke Police Begin Crackdown on Newly Illegal Chimney Fires"

The article goes on to say:
Burn a log, go to jail.

Not quite. But at noon Wednesday, it became illegal for residents of the nine Bay Area counties to start a fire in their fireplaces, wood stove or in pits outside their homes.

And those who flout the new law, which is in effect on pollution-heavy Spare the Air days, could be slapped with fines of thousands of dollars. The current ban will last at least until noon today, but about 20 Spare the Air days could be declared during the winter season, which runs from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28.

Teams of inspectors from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will be patrolling neighborhoods, on the lookout for chimney smoke and, perhaps, listening for the sounds of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

"We take this very seriously,'' said district spokeswoman Kristine Roselius.

She said one in seven people in the Bay Area has respiratory problems that can be worsened by soot. "During smoky nights, it's difficult for them to breathe,'' she said.
The article obviously was not written in the Davis Enterprise but rather than the San Jose Mercury News on November 19, 2008.

The article continues:
"The Bay Area has 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves, so district officials are hoping most people will voluntarily comply with the new law, adopted by the district's board of directors in July. But residents who decide not to obey might soon regret it.

"We won't have inspectors knocking on doors,'' Roselius said. But first-time violators will be sent a warning in the mail and told they can expect steep fines if they continue to ignore the law.

Roselius said the district hasn't yet set up a penalty schedule for subsequent violations, but "the fines will range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars."
The Mercury News then asks a poll of its readers with a comments section as to whether they would report a neighbor violating a fireplace wood-burning ban. 77% or 464 of 602 votes said no. The responses get heated. People turned to insults. The comments could have been written on the Vanguard.

If you look at the letters to the editor section of the Enterprise, Bob Dunning, etc., people are acting like this is yet another Davis artifice. It is not. It is happening across the state and the agenda is being driven by the Air Quality Management District. In fact, it is not just a California thing, a number of citizens in other states are starting to push for various forms of limits, regulations, or even bans on wood burning. This is not just about Davis.

But Davis of course has to hang their hat on something. Davis' wood burning ban would of course be the strictest in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley.

The key difference is that Davis' regulations would use wind speed as a factor. Moreover, the NRC's proposal would prohibit the use of wood burning fireplaces and stoves somewhere around 60 days per season. Sacramento County's proposal would ban wood burning for 11 days. The City Staff's recommendation would be in that range.

Finally, Davis' NRC proposal would ban open hearth fire places completely and phase-in the EPA modified phase II.

Bob Dunning this morning argues that it's not clear the science is there to support this.
But even the commissioners had to admit they were shocked by one glaringly contradictory factoid that emerged from their studies.

'One surprising aspect of this modeling work,' they write, 'was that the predicted maximum concentrations of PM were less with an open hearth fireplace at a 2.5 mph wind speed' than with an EPA Phase II-Approved wood stove at the same wind speed.

In other words, at a lower wind speed - one that is quite common in our town - an open-hearth fireplace is actually better for the air than one of those fancy and very expensive EPA-certified stoves.

But, rather than embrace this finding, the commission decided to ignore it completely in its headlong rush to immediately ban all open-hearth fireplaces at all times, no matter what the atmospheric conditions.

When you've made up your mind, best not to let a pesky fact or two get in your way.
Mr. Dunning of course omits the explanation for the inconsistency and reasons why a two-tiered approach would be problematic. Here is the full explanation from the study:
This apparent inconsistency is due to the uplifting dispersion effects of the high exhaust velocity of the Open Hearth fireplace relative to the lower wind speeds seen in this particular combination of meteorological conditions. As the exhaust velocity to wind speed ratio drops by either using an EPA Phase II approved wood stove with reduced exhaust velocity or with increasing wind speeds, the resulting wood-smoke plume is forced downward so much higher PM2.5 concentrations are predicted with Open Hearth Fireplaces at either higher wind speeds or stagnant air conditions. Thus, it is not practical to suggest a small wind speed “window” to allow burning with open hearth fireplaces because that window is very small from a meteorological point of view - i.e. variable wind speeds would into and out of the “safe” wind speed window very quickly. This prevents effective practical enforcement of prohibited burning. Further, the degree of neighborhood pollution that otherwise results from burning in an open hearth fireplace when outside the “safe” wind speed “window” is so great that much would be risked to gain little if this wind speed window exemption was implemented for open hearth fireplaces. Thus, we strongly recommend against implementing a two-tiered approach to determination of “Allowable Burn Days” allowing for use of open hearth fire places during this very narrow wind speed “window”

Finally, it is important to note that this predicted net daily PM2.5 exposure calculations assumes only one upwind fireplace and ambient background PM of only 12 ug/m3. If the background PM concentration is higher than 12 ug/m3 as often occurs, then this degree of exposure relative to the recommended exposure threshold increases. If one or more additional fireplaces are also being used in close upwind proximity, this will also contribute additional PM to the plume and the degree of exposure to the exposed individual also increases.
Here is their key recommendation:
"For this reason, there will undoubtedly still be some exposure of some people to PM2.5 concentrations of such a duration that their exposure will exceed even the Federal 24-hour PM2.5 standard. The extent of this exposure is subject to disagreement amongst knowledgeable practitioners, however. Thus, we strongly recommend that the UC Air Quality Research Center be contacted and further study be implemented and completed prior to a complete ban on all wood-burning."
Sounds reasonable. It is clear at this point that we do not have all of this science down. Just as we did not have all the science down a generation ago on the effects of second-hand smoke.

The more I read, the more I agree with a measured approach. I was concerned that this was pushed a bit too far initially. I think the NRC recommendations are where we ultimately need to go, I am not completely sure we are there yet. If we settle for the staff recommendation, I would like to see the council build in a time-table to get to a lot of the elements that the NRC has put forward.

There are a lot of questions that still need to be resolved on this issue. One question that is striking to me is that the language in the ordinance at least from the NRC (Natural Resources Commission) is that the police would police this ordinance. My question is why is the Air Quality Management District not doing the same thing in Davis that they are in the Bay Area? The enforcement mechanism is problematic at this time. I would like to see the city explore other possible models of enforcement other than relying on police resources.

I would also like to see a much more concerted educational campaign on the part of the city to show the public how this can be a very real and very serious health hazard, and not just to people with asthma and respiratory diseases, although that is probably sufficient to do the preliminary restrictions.

---David M. Greenwald reporting