ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN
While many others can’t wait for the sunny weather and gentle breezes of spring, Jennifer Lawson is praying for continuous rain during the next month.
Lawson lives in North Cowichan, where local bylaws allow backyard burning for residents to get rid of the wood waste on their properties from March 15 to April 15, and Oct. 15 to Nov. 15, each year.
But Lawson said she is “very sensitive” to woodsmoke and is forced to wear a mask with filters at times when the woodsmoke from the other properties in her neighbourhood becomes too excessive.
“To a lot of people around here, especially the older ones, burning wood waste is as natural as a mother’s milk,” said Lawson, who is a member of the Cowichan Fresh Air Team.
“But it’s a fact that a lot of the particulate matter from this burning causes all kinds of health problems. We were hoping that the last burning season would have been the last. I just wish for rain to discourage people from burning.”
Backyard burning is allowed in North Cowichan and a number of the electoral areas of the Cowichan Valley Regional District during the designated periods each fall and spring, albeit with regulations.
But the practice is banned completely in other local municipalities, including the City of Duncan, the Town of Ladysmith and the Town of Lake Cowichan, and moves have been made by various groups in the last few years for all areas of the Cowichan Valley to implement a full ban on backyard burning.
The CVRD released an extensive air shed protective strategy last year, noting that hospital admissions for children with respiratory diseases were on average 70 per cent higher in the valley than the rest of B.C. between 1998 and 2012.
The report also found asthma rates were 14 per cent higher and chronic respiratory illness in people over 45 was 50 per cent higher in the valley.
The geography of the valley, ringed by mountains, means bad air is often held at ground level at certain times of the year, the report stated.
Lori Iannidinardo, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s director for Cowichan Bay, said the district’s bylaw that limits backyard burning to two one-month periods is just a few years old, while there were no restrictions before.
But she said even limiting the burning to those restricted time periods is still “not working well.”
“There are a lot of rules in the bylaw around backyard burning, including the fact that the wood material has to be dry and there must be proper atmospheric venting at the site, but I’m not sure how many people actually follow those rules,” Iannidinardo said.
“It’s hard to enforce these rules in this rural region, so I think we need to revisit this issue.”
Iannidinardo said the district offers free composting services for wood waste at its facility on Fisher Road, but residents are responsible for transporting their waste to the site.