The Valley’s newest wood-burning rule: more health-protective or what?!

In approximately six weeks, according to Mark Grossi in The Fresno Bee, a new, more healthful particulate matter standard is going to be implemented in California’s eight county San Joaquin Valley.

Lowering the standard to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air and making it more protective of human health; that, right there, is fantastic news! Or, so it would seem.

Lowering the 24-hour or daily fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) standard to a more healthful 20 micrograms per cubic meter, you would think, is a good move. That’s a full 10 micrograms down from the prior Valley standard. But as it were this so-called “standard adjustment” comes with its own set of conditions.

The rule is complex, according to Grossi. And what with the San Joaquin Valley’s fine particulate matter problem being among this nation’s worst, for me, personally, I am not so sure this new rule makes sense. I’ll explain.

If you remember from my earlier post “Tighter restrictions on wood-burning in Valley could make for cleaner winter air,” I spelled out the specifics as to how the rule could work.

“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.”

I also mentioned that “In the Valley during wintertime … as much as 30 percent of fine particulate pollution can be tied to residential wood-burning activity, … .”

It is helpful to know just what source is contributing what amount of Valley PM 2.5.

To learn this I consulted the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s “Report to the Community 2013-14 Edition.” In the Valley, 13 percent of annual PM 2.5 emissions comes from “fireplaces and woodstoves” while an additional six percent comes from “cooking including charbroiling.”1

Okay, let’s look at this new rule in the practical sense. In “More on AQI and daily Valley wood-burning standard up for vote,” I brought to bear that the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM 2.5 (particulate matter pollution smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air. I also pointed out that when Air Quality Index for fine particulate matter reaches a level of at least 101, the standard is exceeded, at which point the result is unhealthy air quality.

It is not too difficult to imagine at least one potential outcome.

Case in point: Should there be days when the NAAQS for PM 2.5 reaches 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a level that is unhealthy for sensitive groups or individuals and therefore results in an exceedance, not only would the new 20-micrograms-per-cubic-meter standard for PM 2.5 be exceeded, but so too would be the Valley’s former daily threshold of 30 micrograms as well as the federal standard. Understanding the health implications, it is still okay to fire up the Valley air-district-registered, federally certified wood-burning appliance?! Excuse my asking, but what is the air district’s thinking behind establishing a more stringent PM 2.5 standard that is more protective of public health, but then to give the so-called compliant certified wood-burning appliance owners license to skirt the new rule – up to a point, that is (in this case the 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air limit) – what’s up with that?!

Those going the way of the far cleaner-burning appliances, when these are in use and assuming their use is in place of the far more commonplace fireplaces and woodstoves, won’t they still be producing and releasing into the air soot, specks and chemicals, albeit in microscopic amounts, but still?

In fact, Grossi in no uncertain terms seemed none-too-hesitant to point out that based on study findings, of 800 Valley-based early mortalities attributable to polluted air, most are PM 2.5-caused. I presume the referenced figure, in this case 800, is an annual premature-death statistic.

It is difficult for me to comprehend why, much less accept the notion that, under the new approach, Valley residents owning the aforementioned less-polluting appliances will not be bound by the same wood-burning restrictions as their counterparts who burn wood in the far more widespread and commonly practiced way; that is, by fireplace or by woodstove. If what prompted the revised ruling is the goal of reaching attainment of the annual national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter pollution of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air and then maintaining that standard or even besting it, in adopting the version of the new rule that was adopted, I mean, does this even make sense?! To me, the thinking behind this move is counter-intuitive to say the least.


  1. Sources of Pollution, Annual PM2.5 Emissions, “Report to the Community 2013-14 Edition,” San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, p. 43

1 thought on “The Valley’s newest wood-burning rule: more health-protective or what?!”

  1. It would make sense if EPA-certified stoves were a lot cleaner than non-certified ones. But they are not. An expensive $2.5 million change-out in Libby Montana, proved that the certified stoves were almost as dirty as the ones they replaced – (top of right hand column).
    The changed regulation has nothing to do with improving air quality or health. It’s more likely a result of lobbying from the wood heating industry who care much more about their profits than people’s health.

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