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January 8, 2015

SL County Board of Health Bans Wood Burning On Voluntary, Mandatory Air Action Days

Pam Davenport - Email

(Salt Lake County)—The Salt Lake County Board of Health has passed Health Regulation #35, Solid Fuel Burning, which prohibits burning coal, wood or pellets in fireplaces or wood burning stoves, and bans outdoor fires—including bonfires, patio pit and charcoal grill fires—on days that the State of Utah designates as either mandatory or voluntary air action (no burn) days.

The regulation gives the health department the authority to issue notices of violation after investigating a complaint of wood burning on air action days. State law allows for penalties up to $299 per day, but the department will likely assign the highest fines only to repeat offenders.

“During this first year [2015], the health department will focus on educating residents about the regulation and the health issues associated with solid fuel burning,” explained Gary Edwards, Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCoHD) executive director. “We will not assess violation fines related to this regulation until January 2016.” The department may, however, still assess fines for not complying with statewide mandatory air action days, as it has for several inversion seasons.

The new regulation exempts households that use a wood-burning stove or fireplace as their sole source of heat, and it allows wood burning in emergency situations such as power outages.

Health officials say that solid fuel burning is a significant contributor to the Salt Lake Valley’s air pollution. One fireplace emits as much particle pollution as 90 sport-utility vehicles, and the pollution from one traditional wood-burning stove is equivalent to the amount emitted by 3,000 gas furnaces producing the same amount of heat per unit. Even EPA-certified stoves still emit as much pollution as 60 gas furnaces.

The tiny, microscopic particles created by burning wood and other solid fuels can enter the blood stream and cause breathing and heart problems. The particles in wood smoke are so tiny that even doors and windows cannot keep them out; up to 70 percent of the wood smoke that exits a chimney re-enters nearby homes.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has created two distinct systems to alert residents to air quality issues. The first, a color-coded health alert notification, alerts residents to when air quality is good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), and unhealthy (degrees of red, depending on particulate level). The second, which has no color associated with it, determines when the new Health Regulation #35 will be enforced. This second system is a set of three “air action” notifications: unrestricted (there are no bans), voluntary (residents are asked to refrain from burning [Salt Lake County residents are now required to refrain from burning, however]), and mandatory (residents are required to refrain from burning statewide).

SLCoHD is asking the public to alert air quality officials to burning on air action days so department staff may educate noncompliant residents before fines go into effect. The public may file reports online at SLCoHealth.org (click “File a Report”) or by calling 385-468-8888 (option 4) during regular business hours (Monday–Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).



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