Wood Burning Ban Discussion Turns Up the Heat

The headline reads:

“Smoke Police Begin Crackdown on Newly Illegal Chimney Fires”

The article goes on to say:

Burn a log, go to jail.

Not quite. But at noon Wednesday, it became illegal for residents of the nine Bay Area counties to start a fire in their fireplaces, wood stove or in pits outside their homes.

And those who flout the new law, which is in effect on pollution-heavy Spare the Air days, could be slapped with fines of thousands of dollars. The current ban will last at least until noon today, but about 20 Spare the Air days could be declared during the winter season, which runs from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28.

Teams of inspectors from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will be patrolling neighborhoods, on the lookout for chimney smoke and, perhaps, listening for the sounds of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

“We take this very seriously,” said district spokeswoman Kristine Roselius.

She said one in seven people in the Bay Area has respiratory problems that can be worsened by soot. “During smoky nights, it’s difficult for them to breathe,” she said.

The article obviously was not written in the Davis Enterprise but rather than the San Jose Mercury News on November 19, 2008.

The article continues:

“The Bay Area has 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves, so district officials are hoping most people will voluntarily comply with the new law, adopted by the district’s board of directors in July. But residents who decide not to obey might soon regret it.

“We won’t have inspectors knocking on doors,” Roselius said. But first-time violators will be sent a warning in the mail and told they can expect steep fines if they continue to ignore the law.

Roselius said the district hasn’t yet set up a penalty schedule for subsequent violations, but “the fines will range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.”

The Mercury News then asks a poll of its readers with a comments section as to whether they would report a neighbor violating a fireplace wood-burning ban. 77% or 464 of 602 votes said no. The responses get heated. People turned to insults. The comments could have been written on the Vanguard.

If you look at the letters to the editor section of the Enterprise, Bob Dunning, etc., people are acting like this is yet another Davis artifice. It is not. It is happening across the state and the agenda is being driven by the Air Quality Management District. In fact, it is not just a California thing, a number of citizens in other states are starting to push for various forms of limits, regulations, or even bans on wood burning. This is not just about Davis.

But Davis of course has to hang their hat on something. Davis’ wood burning ban would of course be the strictest in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley.

The key difference is that Davis’ regulations would use wind speed as a factor. Moreover, the NRC’s proposal would prohibit the use of wood burning fireplaces and stoves somewhere around 60 days per season. Sacramento County’s proposal would ban wood burning for 11 days. The City Staff’s recommendation would be in that range.

Finally, Davis’ NRC proposal would ban open hearth fire places completely and phase-in the EPA modified phase II.

Bob Dunning this morning argues that it’s not clear the science is there to support this.

But even the commissioners had to admit they were shocked by one glaringly contradictory factoid that emerged from their studies.

‘One surprising aspect of this modeling work,’ they write, ‘was that the predicted maximum concentrations of PM were less with an open hearth fireplace at a 2.5 mph wind speed’ than with an EPA Phase II-Approved wood stove at the same wind speed.

In other words, at a lower wind speed – one that is quite common in our town – an open-hearth fireplace is actually better for the air than one of those fancy and very expensive EPA-certified stoves.

But, rather than embrace this finding, the commission decided to ignore it completely in its headlong rush to immediately ban all open-hearth fireplaces at all times, no matter what the atmospheric conditions.

When you’ve made up your mind, best not to let a pesky fact or two get in your way.

Mr. Dunning of course omits the explanation for the inconsistency and reasons why a two-tiered approach would be problematic. Here is the full explanation from the study:

This apparent inconsistency is due to the uplifting dispersion effects of the high exhaust velocity of the Open Hearth fireplace relative to the lower wind speeds seen in this particular combination of meteorological conditions. As the exhaust velocity to wind speed ratio drops by either using an EPA Phase II approved wood stove with reduced exhaust velocity or with increasing wind speeds, the resulting wood-smoke plume is forced downward so much higher PM2.5 concentrations are predicted with Open Hearth Fireplaces at either higher wind speeds or stagnant air conditions. Thus, it is not practical to suggest a small wind speed “window” to allow burning with open hearth fireplaces because that window is very small from a meteorological point of view – i.e. variable wind speeds would into and out of the “safe” wind speed window very quickly. This prevents effective practical enforcement of prohibited burning. Further, the degree of neighborhood pollution that otherwise results from burning in an open hearth fireplace when outside the “safe” wind speed “window” is so great that much would be risked to gain little if this wind speed window exemption was implemented for open hearth fireplaces. Thus, we strongly recommend against implementing a two-tiered approach to determination of “Allowable Burn Days” allowing for use of open hearth fire places during this very narrow wind speed “window”

Finally, it is important to note that this predicted net daily PM2.5 exposure calculations assumes only one upwind fireplace and ambient background PM of only 12 ug/m3. If the background PM concentration is higher than 12 ug/m3 as often occurs, then this degree of exposure relative to the recommended exposure threshold increases. If one or more additional fireplaces are also being used in close upwind proximity, this will also contribute additional PM to the plume and the degree of exposure to the exposed individual also increases.

Here is their key recommendation:

“For this reason, there will undoubtedly still be some exposure of some people to PM2.5 concentrations of such a duration that their exposure will exceed even the Federal 24-hour PM2.5 standard. The extent of this exposure is subject to disagreement amongst knowledgeable practitioners, however. Thus, we strongly recommend that the UC Air Quality Research Center be contacted and further study be implemented and completed prior to a complete ban on all wood-burning.”

Sounds reasonable. It is clear at this point that we do not have all of this science down. Just as we did not have all the science down a generation ago on the effects of second-hand smoke.

The more I read, the more I agree with a measured approach. I was concerned that this was pushed a bit too far initially. I think the NRC recommendations are where we ultimately need to go, I am not completely sure we are there yet. If we settle for the staff recommendation, I would like to see the council build in a time-table to get to a lot of the elements that the NRC has put forward.

There are a lot of questions that still need to be resolved on this issue. One question that is striking to me is that the language in the ordinance at least from the NRC (Natural Resources Commission) is that the police would police this ordinance. My question is why is the Air Quality Management District not doing the same thing in Davis that they are in the Bay Area? The enforcement mechanism is problematic at this time. I would like to see the city explore other possible models of enforcement other than relying on police resources.

I would also like to see a much more concerted educational campaign on the part of the city to show the public how this can be a very real and very serious health hazard, and not just to people with asthma and respiratory diseases, although that is probably sufficient to do the preliminary restrictions.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

41 thoughts on “Wood Burning Ban Discussion Turns Up the Heat”

  1. Anonymous

    …With a 2 cent disposable dust mask, this small group of hypocondriacs can live worry free….If you have to call names, you have basically already lost the debate.Your solution is to force people to wear dust masks in their own house rather than put reasonable limits on the putting of pollutants into the air which actually pose a health risk to everyone. And you choose to call people names when you disagree with them. Nice.

  2. Smokie the Bare Naked Lady

    Your solution is to force people to wear dust masks in their own houseThere is no danger of smoke inside your house unless you choose to burn a fire in your house. Look at the scientific data before you pop off. The only time you need to put on a 2 cent dusk mask is when you go outside on a winter evening and your neighbor has the fireplace going and that bothers you.

  3. Mike Hart

    Obviously this is a disaster. We had all hoped that the proposed fire ban would reclaim our title as the most intrusive town in America. Its obvious that the Bay Area cities tried to trump our city council by getting this into the Mercury News before our City Council could act on Tuesday night. Simply disgraceful.As we are trying to let the …small group of hypochondriacs… breathe worry free, perhaps we could reclaim the mantle of intrusiveness by going further… What about indoor air pollution?What about a moratorium on the odious practice of passing gas indoors? We all know that not even a cheap disposable dust mask helps with this form of indoor pollution.The problem is particularly accute in Davis as it is well known that vegatarians create the worst gas. Vegans can empty a room…Perhaps we could regain the headlines by banning this form of indoor pollution instead of the now passe fireplace ban. We already have plans for teams of monitors and expensive equipment for spotting heated plumes of gas.We need to work together to do what is right here. We need to recapture the headlines, we need to find some new way to go further into other people’s lives. When someone says …pull my finger… just say no.

  4. Anonymous

    Ms. Smokie the Bare Naked Lady,You make an interesting point, re: hypchondriacs…which I would expand upon by asking, …How did people survive for decades before the smoking ban?…

  5. Anonymous

    …The only time you need to put on a 2 cent dusk mask is when you go outside on a winter evening and your neighbor has the fireplace going and that bothers you….Why are all 4 of the severe asthmatics in Davis going outside in the freezing cold on Winter nights? The AQMD should issue a warning letter to them–…Don’t go out tonight. It’s cold. Your neighbor might be roasting chestnuts. And if you do go out wear a dust mask and you’ll be fine….

  6. Anonymous

    Re:…What about a moratorium on the odious practice of passing gas indoors?…Methane, a vast untapped resource. I can see it now: Some inventive little Davis startup company will come up with a portable device for people to attach to their colons similar to a colostomy…then there’ll be collecting stations, solar-powered, of course, where these bags, stylishly disguised, can be emptied. The uses of methane? As an augmentation for the hot air heating system in City Council Chambers…for example.

  7. Anonymous

    Re: …Please, please, please, don’t use bad puns in your headlines. The Enterprise is notorious for this….A bad pun is in the eye of the beholder…but David got you anyway, didn’t he…to read, that is.(Would you rather read bad bureaucratese? Ugh.)

  8. Anonymous

    …How did people survive for decades before the smoking ban?… Maybe some of them didn’t. Perhaps they got lung cancer and died.Perhaps it has contributed to the rising tide of asthma.How do you know people survived for decades before the smoking ban?How did people survive for decades before the cigarette smoking ban? Maybe they didn’t. Did that ever occur to you even remotely?

  9. Sophie

    …Perhaps it has contributed to the rising tide of asthma….The number of Americans who heat their homes burning wood has declined while the percentage diagnosed with asthma has increased. …In 1993, 3.1 million homes used wood for heat; the number dropped to 2 million in 2001, according to census data provided by the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy….Poor diets may be the bigger problem for asthmatics. …A diet high in polyunsaturated fats seems to double the risk of asthma, reveals research in Thorax….

  10. Alan Pryor, Yolo Clean Air

    Here is what the Sacramento AQMD says about the health and economic impacts of PM2.5 in the Sacramento Metropolitan Area. It was contained in a letter to Council that I was copied on. I checked the reference and it is quoted accurately:The statistics applying this information to Davis’ population and the comments at the end are the writer’s and not mine…In the staff report submitted in support of the recent Sacramento AQMD wood-burning restrictions, they noted that:

  11. Alan Pryor, Yolo Clean Air

    To: Anonymous Re:…Why are all 4 of the severe asthmatics in Davis going outside in the freezing cold on Winter nights?… The Mercury News article said that 1 in 7 people in the Bay Area have respiratory problem. If that proportion is the same in Davis x 60,000 people = 8,570 people in Davis with respiratory problems. That is a few more than …4….Perhaps if you used more factual estimates your posts might be taken more seriously.

  12. Robin W

    Alan, your application of the Sacramento AQMD report is faulty. You say that "The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has estimated both the public health and economic impacts caused by exposure to PM2.5 for the Sacramento Metropolitan Area . . ." What percent of the PM2.5 exposure in Sacramento is attributable to fireplaces and wood burning stoves in people's homes (as opposed to commercial enterprises, agricultural burning, and forest fires)? How much would banning home stoves and fires reduce the PM2.5 exposure?Further, why do you believe that the impacts can be generalized to Davis simply by using a ratio based on population difference between Davis and Sacramento? Davis has lower population and housing density, and I suspect the air patterns and dispersion of smoke & particles are also different.This thought keeps coming back to me — that, for the most part, the people who are affected by wood burning by individuals at home on cold nights are those who are outdoors on those cold nights in close proximity to the home of the person burning the wood (plus the people in the home burning the wood). So I have trouble believing that elevations in PM2.5 levels caused by individuals burning wood at home at night have an overall impact that is even proportionate to 24 hours day elevations in PM2.5 caused by commercial enterprises, agricultural burning, and forest fires.Why is the focus on home burning? Are individual citizens just an easy target?And why are the City Councils so focused on this source of pollution while they continue to acquiesce in the annual aerial spraying of poison by the Mosquito and Vector Control District?

  13. Anonymous

    …Would Council like to select the 3 people who will die prematurely each year in Davis or shall we just let natural selection take care of it for us….No, let’s just shift that mortality to the communities where the natural gas is processed, or to the communities where new power plants are going to be built to meet the demand in Davis.

  14. Anonymous

    4:06:This is characteristically hyperbolic. How much energy do you really think is consumed by wood burning that would have to be replaced–my guess is that you probably don’t know, haven’t looked it up, and therefore do not have much information at your hands to make such a wry assertion. Until you do, you’re just adding to the hysterical reaction in this town to a pretty modest proposal that affects remarkably few people.

  15. SODAite

    What I would like someone to tell me is HOW I can douse my fire in my EPA II fireplace after 6 hrs? We designed our house so the heat from the FR goes up the stairs to heat the upstairs….I don’t WANT to douse the fire and impede the heat…..the six hours/day seems the most silly of all.

  16. Anonymous

    Alan, since you are the expert, certainly you are aware that cold air can trigger a severe asthma attack. Perhaps these …asthmatics… should just stay inside! I am asthmatic and have been for 30 years, but …environmentally sensitive… not!!

  17. No Summer Barbeques??

    Do athsmatics only get attacks during winter? If not, then the City Council should also consider banning smoke from all of the many summer barbeques that occur within Davis. I am looking forward to their 14 pages of regulations* for projected periods of high barbeque usage during warmer weather such as during Picnic Day, Memorial Day Weekend, the 4th of July, and Labor Day Weekend. __________*To ensure that no one anywhere will enjoy him or herself no matter what.

  18. Supporting the Compromise

    A good compromise has been discussed on this blog and will be discussed by city council.I think resorting to name calling due to not being able to burn wood every day of the year is completely silly.I will be very interested to see how council handles this issue. I certainly hope that they support the compromise that seems to have been reached. Thank you for covering this story David.

  19. Anonymous

    Anonymous Anonymous said… Actually, due to the bad pun, I opted not to read the article. 1/4/09 7:40 PMAh, what a misinformed blog reader you are……mis-… because your prejudice against fun puns prevents your absorbing objective information.

  20. Adrienne

    Here’s a possible compromise to mostly protect air quality and mostly protect wood burning investments. I’m interested in what people think of it (politely).THE SUMMARY:1. Extra-clean wood stoves that have been permitted and must run 24 hours a day for heating may do so when wind speeds will be 2.5 mph or more.2. Normal EPA-certified wind stoves run 6 hours when wind speeds will be at least 5 mph.3. Non-certified inserts may burn at wind speeds 7.5 mph for 6 hours a night.4. Open hearths may burn at wind speeds of 12.5 mph for 6 hours a night.A website and a phone recording will tell which category of burners may burn the following night.Burners must get a permit, once, and get educational materials.Police called on a smoke complaint would be able to consult an address-based list of which type of permit people have.———————THE DETAILS: ——-CURRENT NRC PROPOSAL: After the transition period, only EPA-certified stoves may burn, and only 6 hours per night on breezy nights with average expected wind speed of at least 5 mph and without excessive pollutants already in the air. People with only wood heating and with economic problems are exempted.ADJUSTMENTS TO THAT PROPOSAL. Given that the basin is not experiencing a high-pollution day:1. Allow open hearth fireplaces to burn when average expected night time wind speed is at least 12.5 mph

  21. Alan Pryor, Yolo Clean Air

    To Robin W -Re: …Alan, your application of the Sacramento AQMD report is faulty… – As I said in my post, The statistics applying this information to Davis’ population and the comments at the end are the writer’s and not mine… Re Bad Link – The link is a good one – I just checked it. You did not copy the entire URL into your browser – try http://www.airquality.org/notices/Rules2007/Rule421StaffReport27Sep2007-Final.pdf.Re: …What percent of the PM2.5 exposure in Sacramento is attributable to fireplaces and wood burning stoves in people’s homes… – The Sac AQMD estimates wood burning from residential use comprises about 49% of the winter time PM2.5 (pp 7-8 in the same reference as above). …Other Burning… comprises about 2%.

  22. Alan Pryor, Yolo Clean Air

    To Adrienne: I would say your proposal is the most fair proposal of all because no wood-burner is completely banned and no one is forced to upgrade against their will. And it provides equivalent protection for neighbors across the board. The only issue is if your compromise will be viewed as …too complex…. It is otherwise very well thought out and comprehensive.

  23. Don Shor

    I agree, Adrienne has a good proposal. I do have a question: does measurable rainfall remove the particulate risk? So would it (nearly) always be allowable to burn, even open hearth, on a rainy day, regardless of wind speed?

  24. Anonymous

    This is such crap. Let’s call the proposal the …Smoke Whiners Personal Freedom Removal Act of 2009…. Alan, your Yolo clean air whack-group statistics can be manipulated to make any point, or more accurately to support one. The bigger question you need to ask when pursuing any of this stuff is how much more intrusive do you want your local government to be in your life? If we are going to get the local government involved in saving lives how about boarding up in and out and Redrunm burger for helping people clog their arteries? That surely is a big health problem that the City can solve for us. How about banning gas stations, or better yet cars, because of all that harmful stuff coming out of the exhaust pipe? How about banning whiners, the .5% of people in Davis who complain about freaking everything! I suspect that they are all the same people. Let’s see, get rid of smoke, check, aggressive turkeys, check, snorers, check, homes that families want to buy, check. We are on our way here…toads started it all, let’s finish it… And even more ludicrous, the idea that we want our police department to spend their time sniffing chimney stacks and standing outside homes with a stopwatch or a wind speed reader. How about stopping rapes, robberies, bike thefts, DUI violations and oh just a few other things? Any of you that are stupid enough to sign up with the city to tell them what your source is so you can be monitored, well,…you deserve what you will be getting. The police can check my home when they show up with a search warrant signed by a judge on the front step. Better yet, I am not going to answer the door, nope, just kick up the feet, throw another log on the fire (a dry one if I am feeling noble), and read the paper while the smoke patrol scans the streets. Alan, I, and many other people are simply going to ignore any stupid invasion of our personal space by this whacked out proposal. Stack up the fines baby, I will pay them.

  25. Adrienne

    Regarding Don Shor’s question about rainfall: When I asked I was told it makes the particulate matter drop out too slowly to protect the air quality of downwind people, and I do have recollections of smoke hanging in the air during windless rainfall. But I don’t remember whom I asked. It would be great to find out that in fact rain drops out the particulate matter quickly, or quickly enough to make a compromise. Any experts out there?Regarding complexity: I think in America’s 2nd most educated city we can handle 3 sentence voice recordings and the city can keep a list of 4 levels of permits.

  26. Anonymous

    Alan you like to quote the California Air Resources Board as a source we should give lots of cred? Not in my book. Read the 10,000 pages of internet information on MTBE, how it got into our water supply with CARB shoving it down our throats despite lots of opposition. Basically, thanks to CARB, water supplies in the state have been getting polluted with a horrible carcinogen for years and it continues to this very day. CARB is a bunch of people, and they make mistakes, they have as much cred as any other self interested government beurocracy, which in my book is near zero. This effort supported by CARB is about more government intrusion and power grabbing all backed up by self serving science. Tell you what, as soon as there is no MTBE polluting my water, I will be willing to talk about not throwing another log on the fire. Until then, talk to the hand.

  27. i know what you did last summer

    I’ll tell you what folks. Air couldn’t have been any worse than it was for most of last summer. It probably put years on all of our lungs, far more than any ban will do. Lets work more on managing healthy ecosystems and promoting alternative transportation to build a cleaner environment.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for