Sunday, April 28, 2013

Delegation to Woodstock Council, April 18 2013

Your Worship Mayor Sobeski and Members of Council: 

Let me begin by thanking you for having requested that clarification regarding medical condition complaints be included in the Open Air Burning By-Law.
The response in Item I-1 of tonight’s agenda, is to include “a new Sentence” in the By-Law, referring to “an established Woodstock Fire Department policy”.   I would respectfully request a commitment to making that policy public, given that two weeks ago no one, including most of you, seemed to know of its existence.  Unless the details are available to the public, I don’t think you are meeting your own Accountability and Transparency Policy.
I would like to know, for example, the radius of the smoke free area around an affected home.  In my home we had a carbon monoxide detector set off by a fire pit about 130 ft. away.

We heard here on April 4 how both the number of permits and the number of complaints have increased.
With greater public awareness of the medical condition policy, I expect the trend to continue.
For implementation I am imagining a map of the city at the Fire Dept. with thumbtacks marking affected homes, and little circles drawn around them representing the “no burn” areas. 
But how many thumbtacks will there be? 
According to the Canadian Lung Association, over 8% of the Canadian population suffers from asthma.
Add the homes where residents suffer from heart problems or COPD.
And what about pregnant women, who are supposed to avoid second hand smoke?  I trust they will be eligible for the no-burn zone privilege?
And since second-hand smoke is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, I expect that homes with babies will also qualify?
I think that you may be facing an administrative and a public relations nightmare, as you grant permits, get complaints, get doctor’s notes, revoke permits, and if you collect fees, you will be refunding fees… lots more money spent on administration.  

I wonder too if the city might be facing liability issues in the future, as you know, or ought to know, that wood smoke may cause very serious health problems.

At the Council meeting on April 4 there was discussion regarding the permit fees in the proposed Open Air Burning By-Law. 
No one mentioned the costs to individuals adversely affected by the smoke, or the costs to society of poor air quality, so I will speak to those issues. 
Doctor’s notes
Doctors may or may not charge for notes.  I called my family’s doctor’s office, and their charge for a note is $20.00.  I can pay that, but I’m not a senior on a fixed income.
In my own home, we stock prescription “puffers” for asthma, and over-the-counter antihistamines.  There is a direct correlation between poor air quality and necessary consumption of both of those.   I don’t know about heart or COPD medications, but perhaps there are some people watching at home right now who would like to tell you what poor air quality costs them for medications or other treatments.
Energy costs
It seems to be taken for granted that those who don’t want to be exposed to their neighbours’ smoke can just go inside, close their doors and windows, and turn on their air conditioning.  We are being forced to consume – and pay – for more power than we otherwise would.   I will remind you here of your recently endorsed Strategic Plan, Objective 15:  Reduce our energy consumption.
Physical suffering
It’s not a monetary cost, but as Chief Tegler pointed out on April 4:  not everyone has air conditioning.  What kind of choice are you forcing on citizens, who either have to leave their windows open and breathe their neighbours’ toxic smoke, or close their windows and endure stifling heat.
Costs to society
 On May 21 2009 Woodstock hosted the first Southwestern Ontario Clean Air Summit.  Maybe some of you were there.  Woodstock was a signatory to an Intergovernmental Declaration on Clean Air.  The full text is on the internet; here are two excerpts:
“The Ontario Medical Association estimates that in 2005 air pollution in Southwestern Ontario caused almost 1300 premature deaths and health care costs from hospital emergency room visits was in the amount of $112 million.” 
Of course we all pay the cost of those hospital visits.  2nd quote:
“By sharing the best practices from jurisdictions across Southwestern Ontario and beyond, we can support one another in achieving improvements in air quality and climate change at the local and regional level for the benefit of all.”

I suggest to you that those “best practices” are demonstrated by the virtual elimination of open air burning , as in Guelph, Cambridge, and Waterloo.

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