Of lung disease, weather-/air quality-reporting, wood-burning and how it all ties together

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month as so-declared by the Lung Cancer Alliance. Meanwhile, ClimatePlan reports that 20 percent of lung cancer cases in women are non-smoking related.

As it relates, on a local broadcast news service reporting on the weather, the subject of wood-burning came up. It’s a regular feature of the weather reporting this time of the year from this particular broadcast news source.

Fireplace_Burning[1]At any rate, reported was that in many regions located nearby, air quality was going to be or was in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” range. Not surprisingly came the message that wood-burning would be allowed provided a federally (EPA) approved wood-burning device was used. Through all other wood-burning means (non-permitted, non-EPA-approved fireplaces, wood-stoves, etc.), the burning of wood would be restricted.

One needs to understand that in California’s San Joaquin Valley where I live, the regional Valley rule regarding the burning of wood as it relates to the Air Quality Index (AQI) or more specifically, the concentration of fine particulates (PM 2.5) in the air is such: When the level of PM 2.5 exceeds 35 micrograms per cubic meter which would correspond to an AQI of 101 or above up to and including 150, then the air is deemed to be in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” (the young, the elderly, people with respiratory symptoms or diseases like lung cancer, etc.) range.

In the Valley, though, wood-burning in an approved device is allowed until the PM 2.5-concentration in the air reaches 65 micrograms per cubic meter. Above 65 micrograms, all wood-burning is prohibited – no ifs, ands or buts about it. The limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter has been imposed for all others burning wood using non-approved wood-burning means. Those are the terms specified by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District through its Rule 4901. The exception would be that if there is no other source of heat available in the home meaning there is no natural gas supply line, etc. to the home, then those people affected are also allowed to burn wood in a fireplace, etc., that is, if they have the proper permit, up to a concentration of fine particulates in the air of 65 micrograms per cubic meter. That’s the rule.

So, I got to thinking, okay, so-called “approved” wood-burning is allowed with the quality of the air in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” range. Then I got to thinking, why would those with the permitted, EPA-approved appliances, even opt to burn wood with the understanding that neighbors might be among those with respiratory ailments, no matter how clean-burning these devices may be? It goes without saying, or it should anyway, that not all people always comply with the wood-burning curtailments. In which case, increased concentration of PM 2.5 in the air is to be expected. It’s just a fact of life around these parts.

Okay, so, in getting back to the aforementioned weather reporting, it was explained that those who are caught in violation of air district Rule 4901, if it is a first offense, they could either pay the fine assessed or get out of having to pay the fine contingent upon meeting another condition, although it was not spelled out what that “other” condition involved. The presumption, though, is, attending a wood-burning seminar would be ordered.

Truth be told, I believe another factor in the entire equation should come into play, and an intangible one at that, it being to let one’s conscience be one’s guide.

The outlook

I am guessing that because of above-normal daytime temperatures (yesterday’s temperature reached a high of 74 degrees – it wasn’t a record; the record high for Nov. 22nd is 77 degrees), this is the reason I haven’t detected much in the way of wood-burning activity in my neighborhood which, considering the AQI predicted for today being 102 (just into the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” range for PM 2.5 for this time of the year), is a good thing.

Meanwhile, a cold front is expected to move into the Valley by mid-week bringing with it the likelihood of rain on the Valley floor and snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the higher elevations. I would naturally expect that wood-burning activity will pick up. Better quality air is also expected with this storm. How much better, well, that remains to be seen (or perhaps more correctly, smelled).

– Alan Kandel

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