Wednesday, April 26, 2017

London's Community and Protective Services Committee April 25, 2017

Presentation to CPSC
April 25,2017

Good afternoon, everyone.
Full disclosure:  I don't live in London.
I'm from Woodstock, where we also have problems with open air burning.

So what's wrong with woodsmoke?
Pretty much all the same things that are wrong with cigarette smoke: it's a toxic chemical stew of compounds known to be carcinogenic and otherwise detrimental to human respiratory and cardiovascular systems.  In fact, wood smoke is quite similar to cigarette smoke, but with an extra dose of fine particulate matter (of which the World Health Organization tells there is NO safe level of exposure) AND a dump of greenhouse gases and black carbon, that contribute to  global warming.

Let's consider how we treat cigarette smoke in a civilized society.
We protect ourselves from it, and we go to great lengths to protect children and other vulnerable groups from it.  We educate the public about smoking hazards, and try to help the addicted to quit.
In Ontario it's illegal to smoke in a vehicle with a child on board, and it's illegal to light a cigarette within 20 meters of a children's playground or a sports field.  Compare that to London's Open Air Burning Bylaw, that permits backyard fires a mere 4 meters from a property line!   And consider the volume of material being burned: the tip of a cigarette versus a pile of wood: hundreds of times the fuel, and hundreds of times the smoke.  ALL dead vegetation produces similar, hazardous smoke when burned.  This applies to wood, autumn leaves, and tobacco.  No matter how dry, clean, and well seasoned your fire wood is, as the Utah Physicians expressed it, that fire pit is still a toxic incinerator.

Let's jump to California where the authorities are quite aware of air quality issues.  The research done there prior to the 2013 decision on beach bonfires determined that particulate matter from a bonfire disperses downwind, and decreases by a distance of 700 feet.  Hence their ruling that bonfires must be at least 700 feet from the nearest residence.  Compare again to London's Bylaw with its 4-meter-from-the-property-line ruling.
Beaches tend to be breezy places; smoke will disperse.
For fire safety reasons, London's Bylaw prohibits open air burning when wind speed is above 15 k per hour.  Minimal wind means minimal dispersal.  To quote the eloquent Sam Harris:  "It might be the clearest day of the year, but burn a sufficient quantity of wood and the air in the vicinity of your home will resemble a bad day in Beijing".
That is a crucial concept to grasp: proximity.  On March 30 last year this committee was told that fire pits probably don't affect London's overall air quality.  That misses the point. People near a fire don't get to breathe overall or average air, as recorded by the city's one monitoring station; they get the "bad day in Beijing" air, probably right off the scale of the Air Quality Health Index.

London has issued this  "Burn responsibly" brochure, from which I quote:  "Following these regulations ensures you do not create a nuisance for neighbours".
Wood smoke is a serious pollutant and a health hazard, not a nuisance.  We used to think of tobacco smoke as a "nuisance", too, 3 or 4 decades ago.  And in that same report you received last year, 24-33% of complaints were generated by fully compliant fires.

Last Saturday, April 22, was Earth Day.

Scientists and their supporters around the world participated in Marches for Science.

You may have heard the following, in the media coverage

What do we want?
Evidence based science!
When do we want it?
After peer review!

There is a substantial body of scholarly, peer-reviewed studies on the damaging effects of wood smoke on human health, and on the environment....just like the mountain of studies that document the dangers of tobacco use, and second-hand smoke.

The next step is up to you:  to translate that evidence into action, by implementing a ban on open air burning in London.

A final word from the Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution:

As a society, we made a choice that people must not be exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke against their will. Given what we now know, it is time to extend this attitude to wood smoke.

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