Tighter restrictions on wood-burning in Valley could make for cleaner winter air

With a focus on winter, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the air district in this region is at this time contemplating tightening wood-burning restrictions and, as I see it, with good reason: The Valley is one of America’s dirtiest air basins.

Fireplace_Burning[1]In the Valley, meanwhile, the standard for fine particulate matter is currently 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The air district may decide to tighten wood-burning restrictions making it illegal to burn wood in either a fireplace or woodstove whenever PM 2.5 concentrations are expected to rise above the 20-micrograms-per-cubic-meter-of-air level. The exception: for those with federally certified wood-burning appliances and for residents whose living spaces lack a connection to a natural gas line and therefore rely on a wood-fire for heat instead, for both, under the proposed new rule, via a special permit, wood-burning above the daily 20-micrograms-per-cubic-meter level up to 65 micrograms per cubic meter inclusive would be allowed. Above 65 micrograms, all burning would be prohibited. FYI: A wood-pellet stove is cleaner-burning than what burning firewood in a fireplace is. And cleaner still is the burning of natural gas via a natural gas fireplace insert.

In the Valley during wintertime, and being that as much as 30 percent of fine particulate pollution can be tied to residential wood-burning activity, still, as of this writing the decision to tighten wood-burning restrictions to the more healthful 20-micrograms-per-cubic-meter standard is still very much up in the air. The 30-micrograms-per-cubic-meter-of-air standard (a Valley air district standard), is applied on a 24-hour basis.

Meanwhile, for particulate matter pollution smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter in size – PM 2.5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s daily ambient air quality health standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air, while 12 micrograms per cubic meter is the federal agency’s annual ambient air quality PM 2.5 health standard. Keep in mind that particulates that fine entering the bloodstream can lead to heart attack, stroke and even premature death.

I’ve mentioned this in this blog before: Considering wood-burning restrictions in the Valley being in effect from Nov. 1st to Feb. 28th, therefore to allow PM 2.5 concentrations to exceed the 12-micrograms-per-cubic-meter threshold (anything higher is deemed unhealthful), my question is: Can the standard ever be reached and healthy air realized?

Alternately stated, the Valley, short of meeting the healthy air standard, is, in a word, unacceptable.

I plan to report more in this regard as information becomes available.

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