Reader sounds off on City’s ‘neglect of air pollution’

  • Nov. 5, 2014 4:20 p.m.

Our research organization was interested in the article in the Red Deer Express, Sept 24th entitled ‘Dealing with climate change and air issues locally’.

As noted in the article, fine particulates are the most dangerous component of air pollution and the concentration of this pollutant is increasing in Red Deer.

As it is the most dangerous pollutant, the source is normally identified by chemical fingerprinting or carbon dating so that so that remedial action can be taken.

Remarkably, monitoring in Red Deer is too basic to identify the source of the particulates.

We checked with our contacts in North America and around the globe and found that fine particulate levels are increasing in urban centres from Alaska to Tasmania and in Europe from Sweden to Greece.

Their more sophisticated monitoring has identified residential wood smoke as the cause of a very troubling trend towards increasingly unhealthy urban centres.

Wood is being burned in stoves, fireplaces, pellet stoves, fire pits, chimneys, backyard fire pits, indoor and outdoor pizza ovens and worst of all – in outdoor wood boilers.

The problem is growing even in municipalities where natural gas is available and as one example, the Netherlands has a problem simply because wood burning has become green and trendy.

There is nothing surprising about these findings as residential wood or coal burning has been known for centuries as a cause of deaths and the diseases that today we associate with cigarette smoking.

As there is so much research available we can place the cost to the health care system at $15,000 for each wood stove per annum with fireplaces pro-rated according to the extent of their use.

There are some bright notes: Golden has banned any further installation of wood burning appliances while Montreal and Hampstead expect wood burning appliances to be converted to cleaner fuels by 2020.

In the U.S. about 20 municipalities have banned outdoor wood boilers in urban areas while burning bans in the San Francisco Bay area save the health care system $250,000 per day.

When fine particulates are present then there are normally cancer-causing vapours also present.

Remarkably the Air Quality Health Index does not include monitoring for carcinogens.

Thirty-five years ago, independent studies identified high levels of both fine particulates and carcinogens such as formaldehyde and benzene in a typical wood burning subdivision.

Remarkably, the provincial environment minister, at the time, refused to allow his staff to confirm these findings as, ‘Albertans get riled up about cancer’.

This sentiment has been echoed by provincial environment ministers ever since.

Countries such as Britain that monitor for carcinogens have recently identified elevated levels of carcinogens along truck routes even though, unlike Alberta, their diesels have filters on the exhausts.

The Red Deer Express article also deals with the City’s efforts to address climate change.

Perhaps the most effective way to reduce greenhouse emissions would be to ban wood burning although this would be an unpopular measure.

Unfortunately there is a common belief that burning wood is carbon neutral. This is puzzling as wood is just as much a store of carbon as fossil fuels and when burned releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere just as fossil fuels do.

The millions of acres of new trees that are supposed to absorb this carbon dioxide are simply not being planted.

In fact there is extensive clear-cutting in North America to provide power plants here and in Britain and Europe with logs and wood pellets so that everyone can feel good about supposedly saving the Planet.

For more information, it is just a matter of googling, ‘wood burning not carbon neutral.’

Similarly, googling, ‘wood smoke pollution’ will provide a week’s worth of reputable reading relating to this global problem.

Alan Smith – a director of the Canadian Clean Air Alliance

Red Deer