Sunday, April 28, 2013

Delegation to Woodstock Council, April 4 2013

Your Worship Mayor Sobeski and members of Council:
First, let me congratulate you on your new Strategic Plan.  I have been following the process and was quite excited about some of the content.
I HAD been hoping that your vision of Woodstock as a “green and sustainable community” and objective 14 “Protect the quality of our air and water” would lead to the demise of the “Open Air Burning Policy”.  To quote from the mayor’s opening remarks to the Strategic Plan:  “…This Plan and the goals and objectives contained within it will help to guide this Council and Councils of the future in our decision making process”. 
And here we are, only two weeks after your endorsement of that Strategic Plan, and what do you have before you in this agenda?   a recommendation to establish a by-law to regulate open-air burning with permit fees.
It is my opinion that both the existing policy and the proposed by-law are totally incompatible with the above-mentioned Vision and Objective.

There is a common misconception that because wood is a natural product, and a renewable resource, it’s okay to burn it; it’s safe, it’s a “green” practice.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

With the utmost respect for the Fire Department, their focus is clearly on fire safety. 

You, your worship and members of Council, need to be concerned with the larger issues: the smoke produced by open air burning and its effects.  Have any of you, councilors or staff, researched the topic of wood smoke and can you cite reputable sources that will assure the residents of Woodstock of the safety of wood smoke for human health and the environment?

Here are a few sources that will NOT give you that assurance:

Health Canada
Environment Canada
The Canadian Lung Association
The  Heart & Stroke Foundation
The Canadian Cancer Society
The Ontario Ministry of the Environment
The United States Environmental Protection Agency
The World Health Organization….I’ll stop there.

Instead, you will read over and over the list of toxic components of wood smoke, which are pretty much the same as those that occur in tobacco smoke.  You will read about fine particulate matter, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs, pass directly to the bloodstream, and affect the heart – as in “heart attack”.   You will read that the people most vulnerable to the ill effects of wood smoke are children, seniors, and those with heart disease, COPD, allergies, asthma, and other breathing problems.
After you have spent some time reading about wood smoke, have a look at the Community Survey data in Appendix F of the Strategic Plan, specifically Table 11.  Q5a – Importance of spending City tax dollars on environmental services/programs.  On the subject of “Air quality”, a whopping 81% of those surveyed responded with a ranking of 4 or 5.  Think about that:  81% of the population cares enough about air quality to encourage you to spend their tax dollars on improving it.  Why, then, are you doing the opposite, by giving permission for burning?   Open air burning of wood is a source of air pollution over which you have absolute and complete control.  You are not obliged to give anyone permission to burn under the Ontario Fire Code (1) and when you give that permission you are DENYING access to clean air.
You might wonder if other cities have better practices.  I’ll give you two examples.
Guelph, which has long had a reputation for green initiatives, sets the gold standard:  there, open air burning is “strictly prohibited”.
In Cambridge, you can apply for a burning permit, and there is a charge.  But the fire MUST be 150 meters (492 feet) from any building – which will preclude fires in most backyards.   Also, “Burning cannot be done where the smoke will bother your neighbours”.  Bravo, Cambridge!

To conclude:  you have endorsed a strategic plan with a vision of Woodstock as green and sustainable.   Open air burning of wood is diametrically opposed to that vision.  Please, maintain your credibility, stick with the vision, align your policies and by-laws with it, and eliminate outdoor burning of wood.  As your smoking by-law brochure says:  The public has the right to breathe clean air.

Happy Earth Day to you all.


Thanks to Councillor Bes, who asked how many complaints were received annually, we learned the statistics:
2010:  51
2011:  64
2012:  80
... so complaints have risen about 25% each year.

Councillors appeared to be unaware of the Fire Department's medical exemption policy.  [Not one of them mentioned it to me, after my June 2012 delegation!]

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