WHO Report on Wood Burning

from WHO report
In 2013 the World Health Organization classified particulate matter as a Group 1 carcinogen. In “Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths” their evaluation showed:

An increasing risk of lung cancer with increasing levels of exposure to particulate matter and air pollution.

Now they’re back with a new, comprehensive report that goes straight to the problem sources, “Residential Heating With Wood and Coal, Health Impacts and Policy Options“. Simply put,

Evidence links emissions from wood and coal heating to serious health effects such as respiratory and cardiovascular mortality and morbidity.

Air pollution resulting from wood burning is a problem worldwide, locally, too:

Burning solid fuel in homes produces more neighbourhood-level PM pollution than using electricity, gas or liquid fuels for heating. Wood space heating was responsible for 11% of California’s annual average PM2.5 and 22% of the state’s winter PM2.5 emissions in 2012 (Air Resources Board, 2014).

The opportunity is straightforward — residential and recreational wood burning,

is a sector in which PM2.5 and BC (black carbon) emissions can potentially be reduced with greater cost–effectiveness than many other emission reduction options.

Wood burning continues to be ‘low-hanging fruit’ for air quality regulators. Part of the problem is that the public considers it a “green” or renewable fuel source, so public outreach and education must be scaled up.

Images from the WHO report
Images from the WHO report

In Chapter 6, it’s the policy options that intrigue, including “No Burn Days”, both voluntary and mandatory, are “usually called when weather conditions are cold and still.”

“No burn” areas are needed… it is important to define urban areas with dense populations and/or geographical features (such as valleys between mountains) where residential heating or cooking with small-scale appliances burning solid fuels (wood and coal) is not permitted at all

Recreational wood burning along Southern California’s beaches qualifies. Dense urban areas define the region and specific locations in Newport Beach allow burning too close to resident homes. Consider the geographical features at Big Corona beach in Corona del Mar, where 100 foot high bluffs surrounding the beach trap particulate matter from the 25 beach bonfires — a candidate for a No Burn Area? Especially in winter when inversions bring adverse exposure levels for nearby residents.


UCLA Environmental Report

UCLA announces its first of its kind Environmental Report Card for Los Angeles. Covering the ecosystem, air, water, waste, energy and quality of life, the report establishes a baseline for eventual improvements.

The challenge of moving towards sustainability in Los Angeles County is daunting: it is the most populous county in the nation and consists of 88 individual cities. After nearly two years of gathering and analyzing data, the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA has developed an Environmental Report Card for the County of Los Angeles, the first of its kind in the nation for a major metropolitan area. The aim of this report card is three-fold: to provide a broad picture of current conditions, to establish a baseline against which to assess the region’s progress towards environmental sustainability, and as a thought provoking tool to catalyze policy discussion and change.

Del Mar Delights

It’s good to take a break every so often, confronting the never-ending issues of air quality can get depressing, so I’m in Del Mar for the weekend. I knew it would be lovely and relaxing, but I didn’t expect such awareness, like this sign at the beach:


Notice the prohibition on charcoal. I’ll bet it’s really the lighter-fluid odors they’re after, but propane burns much cleaner. Why can’t we have this in my hometown, Newport Beach?

Then this next sign — too good to be true?

“Protect the surf • No Idling” — these are two foreign concepts in Orange County. 

It’s not all hearts and flowers here in Del Mar; our restaurant last night had more tiki torches and fireplaces going than I could count — all propane and natural gas, but still, they were doing their part to heat the atmosphere. But that seems like a more manageable step to resolve.


Particulate in L. A.

Many will tell you, “You should have seen the skies a few decades ago; it’s much cleaner today.” Yet Los Angeles remains the most polluted city in the country. Why is that?

The Particulate Matter Problem: Pollution in the LA Basin:

Though many joke that in Los Angeles “at least you can see the air you’re breathing,” the truth is most of what is floating in our air, tiny particulate matter, we cannot see. These microscopic particles are the biggest contributor to ill health — and dirty air.


Montreal Leads, Salt Lake City Retreats

As one North American city dramatically moves up its wood burning ban, another suffers a legislative setback.

First the good news: Montreal to ban open fireplaces by 2016,

There are an estimated 85,000 wood stoves and fireplaces in the city of Montreal. “We considered that we will reduce the particulate matter by 80 per cent which is a giant step,” said Dominic Perri, the Environmental Commission’s vice-president. “This is a first in North America. This will encourage other cities to follow us.”

Let’s hope more cities do follow their lead, but there’s little evidence they will. In a terrible setback, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment reports that Governor Herbert has signed HB396:

Plain and simple, this bill will increase winter time wood smoke along the Wasatch Front, the exact opposite of what our community needs to clean up our air… the Governor caved into a bill written by the stove industry and high-powered lobbyist, Greg Curtis. HB396 is a disturbing example of special interests controlling state government, at the expense of the average citizen

Grading European Cities

Somehow I’m not surprised to hear that Zurich and Copenhagen come out on top in a test of how hard European cities are fighting air pollution.

Lisbon and Luxembourg were ranked last for their “half-hearted efforts,” with Dublin, Madrid, Rome and Glasgow all graded F. Surprisingly, Amsterdam rated only a D.


Back in California — the next time you’re driving up the 5 Fwy through the San Joaquin Valley, as the aroma from those cattle yards wafts in, you’ll want to remember this story in Medical Daily: Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria From American Cattle Become Airborne, But Is It Life-Threatening?

Airborne particulate matter wafting off American cattle yards contains antibiotics, bacteria, and antibiotic-resistant DNA, a new study finds. Environmental tests on the spread of antibiotics have been performed in the past, but this is the first time researchers have examined aerial dispersion. The work suggests airborne transmission may be contributing to an emerging global health problem, where doctors find it increasingly difficult to treat life-threatening infections.

Fashion Masks


Gotta go out, but don’t wanna look like an enviro-freak?

You’ll want one of these new Vogmask fashion masks:

… the “world’s first high-fashion, high-filtration mask” — a mask that is not only wearable for hundreds of hours, washable and comes in mind-blowing designs, it filters 99.978% of particulate matter such as tiny 0.3 micron particles and offers protection against allergens, pollutants and bacteria. It is one of the few pollution masks that meets stringent standards of  National Institute of Health and Safety.

Starting at $20, they come in many jazzy styles. Vogmasks is a Santa Cruz, CA company.


Sooty Particulates and Worse

A sandstorm adds to the daily problem as Beijing hits an AQI of 895.

The San Joaquin Valley is failing to meet air quality standards. Rain would help. “Spike In California Air Pollution Brings Reminder Of Bad Old Days

Last summer, California was out of compliance with federal ozone rules for 99 days in the San Joaquin Valley, up from 89 the year before. Sooty particulates, which cause brown haze in the late fall and winter, were up throughout the state last winter.

New Studies

One thing air quality advocates have going in their favor – there’s a constant drumbeat of new stories and studies entering the spotlight. Hardly a week goes by without a report of new research. Sharing these details with a wide audience helps us all as we work to influence public opinion.

Clean air, but at what cost? This week as the Supreme Court heard arguments that will either curtail or unleash the EPA’s ability to regulate mercury in coal emissions.

The LA Times reports on a new study, “Air pollution takes a double toll on babies’ brains.”

… physical changes in the brain’s internal wiring also were correlated with slower cognitive processing and with symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity

OkotoksWho wouldn’t like this new proposal? Okotoks, Alberta is considering idle-free zones:

It’s obviously a huge concern especially at schools, children are the most impacted by particulate matter out of vehicle exhaust and because they’re smaller they’re a lot closer to tail pipes and when you’re getting large amounts of vehicles idling in one location it has a compounded effect.

Prius can do it – shutting off the car engine when stopped – Porsche, too, so as we wait for other manufacturers to catch up this bylaw sounds like a great way to increase awareness.


Tourism Will Suffer

Paris is looking like Beijing as it suffers through a bad month of air pollution, “Paris chokes on pollution“.

On Wednesday, when the air was at its worst, a toxic, choking haze masked the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower. Along the city’s grand boulevards, the Champs Elysées and the famous squares — Bastille, Opera, Republique, Nation — pedestrians could smell and taste the smog.