Tonight, Spare the Air 

For the second time this season, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is calling on Bay Area residents to Spare the Air tonight and refrain from lighting a fire or using any other wood burning appliances.

Air quality levels tonight with respect to particulate matter are very high and in some pockets of the Bay Area will exceed 100 on the air quality index, something highly unusual, according to BAAQMD chairman Mark Ross.

"We do get high levels above 85 and 90 about 30 days a year in the winter but to exceed 100 is an unusual event," said Ross.

A good score on the air quality index would fall somewhere between zero and 50 and moderate levels of particulate matter would fall between 50 and 100, a typical Bay Area index level. Exceeding 100 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as active children or people with respiratory diseases, according to the BAAQMD.

A weather pattern of very still air has produced a situation where the particulate matter has stood still without a weather system to blow it out, according to Ross.

"We are saturated with soot at this point and will reach the point that is unhealthy for those with impaired lung capacity and asthma," he said. "Cardiac issues can also arise from part of the matter passing into the blood stream."

According to the air district, particulate matter is defined as very small liquid and solid particles suspended in the air, and includes particles smaller than 10 microns in size, as well as finer particles smaller than 2.5 microns in size. It is of concern because it can enter nasal passages and the lungs and cause serious health effects such as aggravated asthma, nose and throat irritation, bronchitis, lung damage, and premature death, according to BAAQMD. People with respiratory illnesses, children and the elderly are more sensitive to the effects of particulate matter, but it can affect everyone.

Tonight’s Spare the Air advisory is voluntary, according to Ross, and coincidentally it falls on the same night the district is holding its last in a series of public workshops on the district’s proposal for a ban on wood burning on evenings like tonight, where the air quality is poor.

The wood-burning ban would reduce emissions of harmful particulate matter from wood-burning devices, including indoor and outdoor fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. The ban would be similar to those in Sacramento and in the San Joaquin Valley, Ross said.

Like most pollution control measures, Ross said the ban would rely on public input. Levels of enforcement would range from warnings to outright fines.

Ross said that just like cigarette smoking bans, there are people who say they believe the district is impinging on their rights to burn in their fireplaces, but to that Ross says, "Even then, smokers were sharing in the risk. Now a home can be burning wood and it’s the homes down the block getting the effects without the cozy little fire in their living rooms."

The district hopes to adopt some sort of an ordinance by the spring. Following that, the district will spend a year or two of educating the public on the ordinance before enforcing fines.

Tonight’s workshop will be held at 6 p.m. at the Robert Livermore Community Center, Cresta Blanca Room, 4444 East Ave., Livermore. A live webcast is available at www.baaqmd.gov.

— Bay City News

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