Smoke can travel a long distance in Cowichan, but also get trapped by our valley. (Citizen file)

Smoke can travel a long distance in Cowichan, but also get trapped by our valley. (Citizen file)

Editorial: Backyard burning should be left in the past

Your lungs and the lungs of all of us here in Cowichan, will thank you for it

It’s a serious health concern.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has asked that people take their yard waste, for free, to the CVRD’s transfer stations rather than lighting it on fire this fall. It’s a perennial problem: smoky air pollution in Cowichan over the fall and winter months. But for some it’s more than unpleasant. And for all of us it poses a risk to our health. The Cowichan Valley is just that, a valley. In the winter months the air often gets trapped between our mountains, holding all that pollution people put into the air close to the ground, where we all live and breathe.

We doubt it’s a coincidence that Cowichan has higher rates of chronic pulmonary disease and asthma compared not only to the rest of the Island, but to the province as a whole. Smoke from outdoor fires can make these conditions well nigh unbearable, leading to hospital visits.

Some areas of the Cowichan Valley have taken the lead and banned outdoor burning altogether. These include the City of Duncan, Town of Lake Cowichan and the Town of Ladysmith. The rest still allow burning during specific windows (except for areas F and I, which have no restrictions on burning), usually arguing that rural properties have too much debris to take to a transfer station (though we’d certainly urge looking into composting and chipping, in most cases).

While there are rules for when people can burn (only when the venting index is “good”) far too many people don’t bother to follow them. Clouds of black, choking smoke are all too common a thing to encounter, even on rainy days when damp debris will burn only at a snail’s pace and with a whole lot of awful emissions that will clog the air for kilometres in every direction, leaving your neighbours cursing you.

How many people have you seen building burn piles right next to the property line, so the smoke won’t drift towards their house (even as it drifts towards the neighbour’s)? How many ignore the edict against burning leaves (though many experts now advise to leave them in place to replenish the soil over the winter)?

Backyard burning may be a traditional way to rid oneself of yard waste, but it’s a tradition we can well do without. There are far better alternatives that don’t leave our neighbours gasping for air.

Be a good neighbour; don’t light piles of stuff on fire. Your lungs and the lungs of all of us here in Cowichan, will thank you for it.

Editorials