By Bruce A. Smith
As Mother Nature removes her icy grip on the Puget Sound Basin today, the fog and dirty air of the past ten days are slowly drifting away and allowing state officials to lift the prohibitions against using wood stoves and fireplaces.
During this time, Pierce County has been under a Stage 1 or Stage 2 Burn Ban due to the accumulation of small particulate matter from wood smoke, which are exceptionally harmful. State officials say that up to 140 people die each year from chronic exposure to wood smoke, and thousands seek medical attention due to asthma and bronchial difficulties. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) estimates that these health costs approach $200 million annually statewide.
“The recent flu outbreaks have definitely been exacerbated due to the elevated levels of particulate matter in the air,” said Joanne Todd, Communications Supervisor for the PSCAA, which oversees the burn ban regulations.
The atmosphere in central and northern Pierce County is so unhealthy that the federal EPA has placed this area in a “non-attainment” category for air quality. Besides health impacts, the area is also subject to limitations on industrial development, causing adverse financial consequences to the region.
The heavy fog and chilly temperatures are indicative of an “air inversion,” where the cold, dense air does not rise or dissipate. Thus, dirty air is trapped at ground level. The weather systems of the past ten days also had few winds to blow the unhealthy air away, hence the effort to reduce the use of wood stoves and fireplaces.
However, those seeking clean air, sunshine and warmth found plenty at Paradise, which lay far above the fog and smoke on Monday afternoon and where temperatures reached 63 degrees under clear blue skies .
The following is the press release from the PSCAA announcing the cessasion of the burn ban in Pierce County:
Effective at 10:00 a.m. today, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is lifting the air quality burn ban issued for Pierce County.
Thank you for your cooperation with the burn ban. Be sure to check current air quality and burn ban status before burning, as conditions can change quickly this time of year. To check burn ban status:
- Sign up for clean air news where you can:
- Receive e-mail notification of burn bans
- Follow us on Twitter/Facebook
- Subscribe to R.P.I.N. and EnviroFlash
- Visit our Web site www.pscleanair.org
- Call our Air Quality InfoLine at 1-800-595-4341
For those who heat with wood, please remember that it is always illegal to emit excess chimney smoke or to smoke out your neighbor, burn ban or not. You know you are burning properly when you do not see any smoke coming from your chimney. And burning garbage is always illegal.
For more information:
- Updated air pollution data and forecasts
- Frequently asked questions about burn bans
- How to heat efficiently and cleanly