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Serious concerns about burning
Editor: The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that air pollution is a carcinogen. Wood smoke contains carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), dioxins, volatile organic compounds and fine particles, and it contributes to air pollution.
Many of the substances found in tobacco smoke are also found in wood smoke. Wood smoke particles are so tiny they remain suspended in the air for long periods of time and can penetrate into buildings with incoming air. Even at low levels, wood smoke is harmful to respiratory immune responses and can cause life-threatening events (heart attack) as well as exposing individuals to lifelong issues by damaging lung tissue.
The B.C. government document “A smoke management framework for British Columbia” contained the following statement: “there is a considerable and growing body of epidemiological and toxicological evidence that both acute and chronic exposure to wood smoke....are associated with adverse health impacts.”
It also contains the following statement: “sources that emit in close proximity (e.g. your neighbours) have a higher intake fraction (are more damaging)” and “sources that emit from elevated stacks tend to have lower intake fractions versus sources at ground levels.” This applies to backyard burn piles.
Langley Township issues burn permits, which usually allow burning for one month. While the permit provides some guidelines on how to build a “safe” burn pile, it provides no information on the need to eliminate or minimize smoke both during and after the burn, nor does it provide any information on health issues caused by burning permitted material, which includes all types of yard waste.
There is only one air pollution monitoring station in Langley. It is located at D.W. Poppy Secondary School. The station at Lochiel School in South Langley went out of service over 10 years ago.
This makes it possible for local and provincial bodies to claim that there is no data suggesting an issue with the burning of wood waste in residents’ backyards.
My personal experience is that there are many issues, both health and enforcement related. I have seen two fires on one property (only one is permitted). I have found pieces of burned plastic on my property, blown there on those dreadful days when the wind direction blows the smoke towards my house, instead of over the house of the neighbour generating the smoke. Burning plastic material is prohibited.
In the 16 years I have lived here, this year has been the worst for smoke in the air. I have had days when neighbours’ fires and smoke essentially surrounded my property. I have inhaled smoke from fires that have been smoking for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours, all within half a mile of my residence.
It makes no sense to that anyone should be allowed to burn material in their backyard. The world is facing significant climate change issues as a result of global warming, which is caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.
Smoke from wood burning contributes to atmospheric GHGs. In September, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report confirming that climate change is real, that average temperatures will increase by between two and six degrees by 2050, and it is being caused by human activity releasing GHGs into the atmosphere.
A recent study shows that temperatures at the Arctic are the highest they have been for 44,000 years, as a direct result of global warming. It is probable that all the ice caps will disappear by mid-century.
In Washington state, it is illegal to smoke out your neighbours. Anyone generating smoke which exceeds 20 percent opacity for six minutes or more is subject to a fine. BC’s Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection has provided B.C. municipalities with a guide on waste burning, which includes the suggestion that the practice be banned.
It can be found at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/bcairquality/reports/pdfs/model-bylaw-backyard-burning.pdf.
Where a municipality elects to continue the practice, the fees suggested are significantly higher than those charged by the Township, and a system of enforcement and fines is suggested.
The Township, together with Metro, should be able to come up with a waste-burning strategy which eliminates the release of GHGs into the atmosphere and perhaps even generates something useful, such as adding power into the electrical grid. Instead of charging $15 for a one-month burn permit, Township could implement a charge which equals or exceeds the amount charged at waste stations.
Alternatively, the Township could stop issuing burn permits at all, and set up a collection system, with a reasonable charge, and take the material to a waste or transfer station for disposal.
Mei Lin Yeoell,