Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Smog? In Woodstock, it's public policy.

With wry amusement I read the "Green Tips" column by the Woodstock Environmental Advisory Committee in the July issue of What's on Woodstock (p.12), entitled "Every breath you take".
To be fair, the concerns expressed about smog, its environmental and health effects, and the suggested tips, are all valid.
Conspicuous by its absence, however, is any mention of one of our greatest seasonal pollutants: WOOD SMOKE, which is all too often in evidence on calm summer evenings.
Is it not hypocritical of Woodstock to encourage me to avoid volatile organic compounds, while forcing me to inhale the same substances from nearby fire pits?

When the current Open Air Burning Bylaw was passed in 2013, the Fire Department reported that 1,282 burn permits had been issued; that worked out to about one toxic backyard incinerator for every 30 residents of Woodstock.  The northwest corner of the city, near Cowan Park, is peppered with them:  fire pits, chimineas, and (for those with a serious commitment to burning) large outdoor masonry fireplaces (gasp).
To put this situation in context:  it's illegal in Ontario to light a cigarette within 20 metres of playground equipment or a public sports field.  But properties near Cowan Park can light backyard fires, and blanket the soccer fields with wood smoke, thus exposing young athletes and their family members to lung-clogging fine particulate matter and an assortment of toxic substances.

Open air backyard burning is illegal in many cities, including Guelph, Waterloo, Hamilton, and Toronto.
Shouldn't our elected officials be protecting air quality and our health, rather than enabling wood smoke pollution?

Those of us who value clean air can only attempt to light a (metaphorical!) fire under Woodstock Council.

Excerpts from Oxford County's website, on Open-air burning:
"Burning wood will release various pollutants into the air that may be harmful to us and the environment, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, and water vapour. Wood smoke may also contain cancer-causing substances, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and benzene formaldehyde."

"Some of the substances found in smoke from open-air burning are so small that our noses and upper respiratory systems are not able to filter them out. As a result, they may end up settling deep within our lungs, potentially damaging cells that protect our airways. 

Breathing in wood smoke is associated with an increase in respiratory irritations and symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness, asthma attacks and shortness of breath. Exposure to wood smoke may also decrease lung function and is associated with an increased number of visits to emergency departments and hospitalizations." 

The above text was published as a UR Opinion piece on the Sentinel Review's website on July 26, 2016.

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