From the South Coast Air Quality Management District:
During late fall and winter, fine particulate (PM2.5)levels can rise to unhealthy concentrations during stagnant atmospheric conditions. Starting today, under the South Coast AQMD’s “Check Before you Burn” program, mandatory no-burn alerts will be issued on days and in specific areas where PM2.5 levels are forecast to reach unhealthy levels.
“While fireplaces are cozy, wood smoke from these fires is a serious public health threat,” said Barry R. Wallerstein, AQMD’s Executive Officer. “Residents can play an important role in helping to clean the air and protect their family’s health by checking before they burn.”
During a no-burn alert, residents in affected areas are not allowed to burn wood or manufactured fireplace logs in their fireplaces or outdoor fire pits. During a typical Southland winter, 15 to 20 no-burn alerts are expected to be issued from Nov. 1 through the end of February.
To learn if a mandatory no-burn alert has been issued for a particular area of the Southland, residents can:
- Sign up at www.AirAlerts.org to receive electronic e-mail notices when a no-burn alert is issued for their area;
- Enter their ZIP code at www.aqmd.gov to see if a no-burn alert has been issued for their area; or
- Call AQMD’s 24-hour Check Before You Burn toll-free line at (866) 966-3293.
This winter, AQMD will partner with local TV station ABC 7 to help deliver air quality messages during news weathercasts. Now in its third year, Check Before You Burn is part of AQMD’s Healthy Hearths initiative and Rule 445 to protect public health by reducing harmful fine particulate pollution during winter months. The program was voluntary during 2010 but became mandatory last year.
Alerts are issued when PM2.5 levels are forecast to exceed the federal health standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over a 24-hour period. Alerts are issued one day in advance and last for 24 hours. For example, an alert issued on a Monday is in place from Monday at midnight (just after 11:59 p.m. Monday) until Tuesday at midnight.
Residents who burn wood in their fireplaces when a no-burn alert has been issued could be fined $50 as a first-time violator. They would also have the option of completing a wood smoke awareness course in lieu of the fine. For a second violation, the fine increases to $150 or instead of the fine a resident may install a permanent gas-fueled fireplace. Third time violators will receive a $500 fine or instead may fund a project that will benefit the environment.
Multiple violations are accrued only if they occur during a single wood-burning season, November through February.
To report a suspected violation, residents may call 1-800-CUT-SMOG (1-800-288-7664) or use the online complaint feature at www.aqmd.gov. Properties located 3,000 feet above sea level, low-income households or those without natural gas access are exempt from curtailment requirements. Campfires, beach bonfires and ceremonial burning are also exempt from mandatory curtailment.
To encourage residents to convert their existing wood-burning fireplaces to clean-burning gas logs, AQMD’s popular Gas Log Incentive Program offers residents a discount of up to $200 to convert their existing wood-burning fireplace to a clean-burning gas log set. Residents using clean-burning gas logs are not subject to the curtailment program.
Fireplaces and other wood-burning devices are actively used in an estimated 1.2 million households in the Southland. They emit more than five tons of harmful PM2.5 emissions per day in the South Coast Air Basin -- more than four times the amount of PM2.5 emitted from all of the power plants in the Southland.
From November through February, when wood burning is at its peak, it is estimated to cause more than 10 tons per day of PM2.5 emissions. PM2.5 is a serious public health threat associated with a wide range of adverse health effects. The California Air Resources Board has estimated that PM2.5 pollution from all sources in the Southland could result in about 5,000 premature deaths per year.
Southern California has some of the worst PM2.5 air quality in the nation. Since wood smoke is such a serious public health threat, most areas of Central and Northern California – in addition to many other areas and cities across the nation – have had mandatory wood-burning restrictions in place for several years.
For more information on the Check Before You Burn program, the Healthy Hearths initiative, health impacts from wood smoke and the Gas Log Incentive Program, visit www.healthyhearths.org.