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Warm your hearth with the environment in mind

By Aaron Blevins, 11/29/2012

First-ever no-burn alert issued for L.A., West Hollywood


Before residents heat up Yule logs this holiday season, they should check with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to see if they should stick to the TV version to help the area’s air pollution troubles.

Photographed from Mount Hollywood, the Griffith Observatory is blurred during a hazy spring day in Los Angeles. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

The district issued a no-burn alert for the local area on Sunday, a first for area residents in Los Angeles and West Hollywood, who were asked to refrain from using any wood-burning device to keep fine particulate levels from increasing.

“It’s asking residents not to use [fireplaces] a few days a year for ambience,” Atwood said, adding that approximately 1 million homes in the basin have wood-burning fireplaces.

The alerts are not just advisory. According to a press release, people who burn wood in their fireplaces could be subject to fines up to $500 for repeat offenders. First-time violators would be fined $50, or they can attend a wood smoke awareness course instead.

There are exemptions to the rule, however. Atwood said the alerts were issued for any wood-burning device, such as a wood fireplace or outdoor fire pit. That doesn’t apply to low-income residents, natural gas fireplaces and properties without natural gas service.

While Los Angeles’ air pollution is well documented, the no-burn alert was not an indication that the city’s air quality has declined further. In fact, it’s just the opposite, AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said.

“We have very dramatically reduced the level of [fine particulate pollution] here in the L.A. basin through a wide range of measures,” he said. “We’re getting close to the federal health standard.”

Approximately 10 to 15 more no-burn alerts will occur this winter, and the intent is to take the city “incrementally further” in reducing fine particulate matter to meet those standards by 2015, Atwood said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fine particulate matter is a complex mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that are found in smoke and haze. Atwood said that throughout the course of a year, wood-burning devices generate more fine particulate matter than all of the power plants in Southern California combined.

He said they are a significant source of air pollution that pose a threat to the public. Fine particulate matter can exacerbate pulmonary and cardiac disease, and is responsible for approximately 5,000 premature deaths each year, Atwood said. It can also affect those who are most at risk, like the elderly and very young. However, Atwood said it impacts everyone, though people may not notice the effects until later in life.

“It’s one of the worst, if not the worst, air pollutants in terms of its health effects,” he added.

AQMD is a regional, governmental agency made up of locally elected officials. Atwood said the governing board adopted regulations last year to lower fine particulate matter in Southern California.

The agency monitors air quality daily, and offers forecasts for the upcoming day. Atwood said it’s too early to tell if last week’s no-burn alert reduced the amount of fine particulate matter in the area, but AQMD will issue more alerts when forecasts call for increased levels. The alerts are issued through the Check Before You Burn program, which will be active through February.

Last week’s no-burn alert affected a portion of Los Angeles County. Locally, the advisory included much of Mid-City, but residents west of Fairfax Avenue were not included. Atwood said AQMD is going to ask the board next year to apply the no-burn alerts to the entire L.A. basin.

He said the agency alerted the media of the no-burn program, though some residents may not have been aware. Residents can sign up for notifications through www.airalerts.org.

AQMD is also encouraging residents with wood-burning fireplaces to switch to natural gas. Atwood said the agency is participating in an incentive program, which could reduce the cost of switching by $200. For information, visit www.healthyhearths.org.

To report a suspected violation, call (800)288-7664.



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