Enjoying a cozy wintry evening in front of blazing fire is comforting, but the smoke that is carried up through the chimney is a hazard for more people than just Santa.
The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District is using its annual “Don’t Light Tonight” program to teach and warn residents of wood-burning’s dangerous pollution impact on the region. The voluntary wood-burning restrictions run from November through February.
When residents burn wood, the amount of particulate matter in the region’s air grows. Research has linked the small particles formed in this pollution to serious health problems.
High particulate matter can cause minor headaches and allergy symptoms to reduced lung function or aggravated heart and respiratory conditions. Prolonged exposure to wood smoke even may lead to chronic lung diseases and cancer, the agency says.
Tom Hall, public information officer for the Yolo-Solano AQMD, said the agency issues advisories when air quality reaches unhealthy levels. Fine particle air pollution is especially dangerous for the elderly, young children and people with heart disease or respiratory illnesses.
“We want to protect those people,” Hall said. “Our mission is one of public health. We institute this voluntary program in order to help them out.”
The California Air Resources Board has not found it necessary to impose mandatory regulation on wood-burning in the Yolo-Solano Air District. Whether restrictions should be enacted in the city Davis has been a point of contention.
Last month, the City Council discussed possibly adopting a wood-burning ordinance that would be enforced on a complaint basis.
“We’ve gone long enough with a voluntary policy and we still can’t crack those chronic burners that aren’t paying attention to the concerns of their neighbors,” Mayor Joe Krovoza said at the meeting.
Local residents who lack access to gas stoves and central heating should not be overly concerned about a change, at least in Yolo-Solano AQMD’s voluntary system.
“We certainly understand that for some people, this is the way they heat their house,” Hall said. “Mandatory programs in other areas do have exemptions for those folks.”
Those without cleaner solutions are advised by the air district to follow a list of guidelines. These include burning only dry, seasoned wood; building small, hot fires; having their chimney inspected regularly; giving their fire plenty of room; and completely extinguishing their fire before going to bed.
Efforts such as those will allow Yolo County to remain cleaner than its Sacramento neighbor, Hall said, when it comes to particulate matter pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency does, however, include the county in a larger nonattainment designation.
Unfortunately, not all areas of Davis share the comparatively low pollution levels. Yolo-Solano AQMD measured particulate matter in East Davis that nearly doubled that of surrounding neighborhoods in 2010.
To learn more about how to stave off the harmful fine particles produced from wood smoke this winter, visit ysaqmd.org and navigate to “Burn Programs.”
Residents who wish to receive “Don’t Light Tonight” advisories may visit the above website and sign up for email updates. Daily updates on pollution levels will be available through a prerecorded message from the agency at 530-757-3787.
“Don’t Light Tonight” advisories also will be published in The Davis Enterprise.
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052.