Air quality worsens as a Stage 2 Burn Ban declared in county – use of any wood stove now prohibited

 A Stage 2 Burn Ban has been declared in Pierce County by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency as air pollution intensifies.  This is the most severe ban the agency can announce, and it forbids the use of any wood stove, even if certified.  It also bans all outdoor burning.

 Violators are subject to fines that can reach $1,000, and the PSCCA has announced it has increased its number of inspectors, especially in Pierce County, which is under US EPA sanctions due to severely unhealthy air.

 Pierce County is one of 32 “non-attainment” zones for air quality in the United States, and is the only such designated area in Washington state.

Washington state health officials claim that nearly $200 miilion is spent annually on health costs to treat those affected by chronic exposure to wood smoke, and they further estimate that 140 residents die each year because of these unhealthy breathing conditions.

 The following is the official press release from the PSCAA, as received today by the Mountain News.


 SUNDAY, JANUARY 13, 2013 – The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is issuing a Stage 2 burn ban in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to protect residents from worsening air quality.  The bans are effective at noon, Sunday, January 13, 2013 and remain in effect until further notice.

 Overnight, many areas around the Puget Sound reached air pollution levels of “UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS”, especially in areas where wood burning is common.  Agency forecasters expect the current cold, dry, and stagnant weather conditions to extend well into the week.  The Clean Air Agency will continue to closely monitor the air quality and weather situation.

 During a Stage 2 burn ban:

  • No burning is allowed in ANY wood-burning fireplaces, wood stoves or fireplace inserts (certified or uncertified) or pellet stoves.  Residents should rely instead on their home’s other, cleaner source of heat (such as their furnace or electric baseboard heaters) for a few days until air quality improves, the public health risk diminishes and the ban is cancelled.  The only exception is if a wood stove is a home’s only adequate source of heat.
  • No outdoor fires are allowed.  This includes recreational fires such as bonfires, campfires and the use of fire pits and chimineas.
  • Burn ban violations are subject to a $1,000 penalty.

It is OK to use natural gas and propane stoves or inserts during a Stage 2 burn ban.

 The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit time spent outdoors, especially when exercising.  Air pollution can trigger asthma attacks, cause difficulty breathing, and make lung and heart problems worse.  Air pollution is especially harmful to people with lung and heart problems, people with diabetes, children, and older adults (over age 65).

 (Note: The Seattle Parks Department prohibits beach fires at Alki and GoldenGardens during the burn ban.)

 For more information:                                                                                      

 The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is an air quality management agency serving King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Created as a result of the 1967 Washington Clean Air Act, the agency protects public health by adopting and enforcing air quality regulations, educating individuals and businesses about clean-air choices and sponsoring voluntary initiatives to improve air quality.

 Please rely on your home’s cleaner source of heat until air quality improves

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5 Responses to Air quality worsens as a Stage 2 Burn Ban declared in county – use of any wood stove now prohibited

  1. Paula Morris says:

    Thanks for the info Bruce. Just one question though: If I was just going about my day…how would I even know there is a burn ban in effect? True–I got the info via computer–from you. But, most of my neighbors don’t even have computer nor do they watch TV during the day.

    • Anita Dierken says:

      Try common sense………

      • brucesmith49 says:

        Since ‘common” sense is often is short supply, Anita, I often suspect that some other issue is at work, such as folks not caring if their neighbors live or die. I’ve seen some very egregious behavior in my part of town, and I can only suspect that the guy burning illegally was trying to kill his neighbors or make them move. Smoke is a weapon, and some people use it. Others just don’t give a rat’s ass about anybody.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      This is a big issue, Paula. Clearly, more needs to be done because the word is not getting out.

      I see two problems. One is that wood smoke is caught up in the cultural war. Thus some folks say they have the right to do what they want and the public be damned. Lots of political leaders seem to back them up or at least tolerate that attitude. McCune won’t talk to me at all on this subject and Becker is maddingly evasive. Along those lines, local fire department officials are reluctant to make a pest of themselves in shutting down offenders. One fire commissioner told me that he doesn’t want his department to become “smoke cops.” But that’s what we need.

      Secondly, we have no clear mechanism for public announcements. TV? Facebook? How does some pedestrian but important information get out to the public if the commerical outlets don’t do it? It’s a problem. I think at the very least that burn ban announcements should scroll on newscasts, and could be posted in a banner ad on a newspaper’s front page.

      Both issues require state officials getting bolder and more outspoken. The public needs tough-minded advocates. Currently, the public educaiton teams from the country’s Department of Health and the State’s clean air agency are too timid in my view.

  2. brucesmith49 says:

    Paula sent this to me in an email:

    Thanks Bruce. Great info. I agree it is a “cultural” war, but very possibly also an economic one.

    Many out here in the boonies want to live the rural lifestyle. Also, there is no way to incorporate natural gas as a heating source….probably due to all the rock? Too many trees? Not sure. But having moved from Illinois where natural gas was the usual source of heat (and an expensive one I might add), it seems odd to see everyone I know either using propane or a wood stove. I myself didn’t want wood or pellets because I have asthma (which has gotten worse since I moved here), and I really dislike propane! So, electric was my choice which is pretty useless in bad storms. Krista and Eric just purchased a brand new EPA certified wood stove! They also have an electric furnace which, if they run too much, is outrageously expensive to operate.

    Concerning the issues of lifestyle choice and expense: Try to FORCE people to pay for the higher cost of propane tanks or electric and there’s going to be big problems at the polls. Make everyone dig deep trenches to lay gas lines out here in the forest land and see how far that goes.

    So heating options are limited. In Seattle, my daughter had an apartment with one little electric heating unit on a wall. She seldom needed to turn it on because the temperatures were so mild there…even in the dead of winter! Out this way….not so much. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the future when resources become even more scarce and expensive! Everyone will probably be cutting down all the trees and burning whatever they can! Of course, if global warming changes winter temperatures…we may not have to worry about heating artificially at all!

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