Saturday, August 9, 2014

Clean Air Day... but not, alas, in Woodstock

It's the end of Canadian Environment Week, which included Clear Air Day on June 4th. These dates were noted on our City Services Calendar, but not otherwise marked by the city; we must go to Environment Canada's website to learn that "Clean Air Day is a celebration of environmentally friendly activities that promote clean air and good health across Canada. What a perfect time to make lifestyle changes that help reduce our environmental footprint".

It might be a tad embarrassing to promote such a day in a city where open air burning is legal, and the sign outside the Vansittart Ave. Fire Hall proclaims "IT IS FIRE PIT SEASON GET YOUR PERMIT".

But don't blame the Fire Department; before Council passed the Open Air Burning Bylaw in May of 2013, one of the options presented by Fire staff was NO BURNING, which Council rejected. One wonders how the Fire staff must feel, as they process and approve Open Air Burning applications, knowing that as a result of their actions many vulnerable groups - children, seniors with heart conditions or COPD, and asthma sufferers to name a few - will be exposed unnecessarily to toxic smoke.

A few searches on the internet for wood smoke and health yield a great deal of unsettling information, including the similarity of wood and tobacco smoke, the toxins present in wood smoke, the effect of particulate matter on the lungs, the relationship to smog, and carbon emissions produced. It is hard to imagine another policy that is so detrimental to both the environment and human health.

Many nearby cities - Guelph, Waterloo, Brantford, and Cambridge for example - don't allow open air burning in residential areas. Why does Woodstock?

The above text appeared as a "UR Opinion" on the Sentinel Review's website on June 9, 2014.

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