North Cowichan air proposals only a start

We now know that the reasons why Cowichan is plagued so much by wood smoke pollution

Dear mayor and council:

We now know that the reasons why Cowichan is plagued so much by wood smoke pollution is because we are unique in that we are locked in completely by a ring of mountains and coastal but on an inside passage. These two factors create a huge number of inversions — almost daily at dusk, sometimes lasting weeks — where cool air is holding smoke laden air trapped down where we live. We know that we have one of the worst air qualities in Canada and are almost on the World Health Organization’s worst air quality list.

Fresh Air Cowichan Team was thrilled to see some progress by North Cowichan on our ailing air quality. There are a couple of points in the report that we would like to address. For example, there is no reason to give larger acreages exemption. Because our polluted air is trapped and travels freely across many kilometers of our living space, smoke doesn’t recognize property boundaries! If a person has five acres, they have room to compost. They do not have the right to pollute the community, no one does (and one wonders, how many of these five acre-plus plots exist?).

There is a perception that new stoves are better. In fact, this isn’t true. The ratings given are for kiln-dried wood in laboratory studies, which don’t exist in the real world. In fact within five years they are often worse than the older non-EPA stoves. So many factors come into play with woodstoves. For example, one study found whereas firewood in New York state had 15 per cent moisture, in Oregon it had 100 per cent from relative humidity.

There is no stove made that doesn’t emit and it is the extremely small size of the particulate that allows it to bypass our mucous defences and go straight into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on many parts of the body, heart and stroke being huge (34 per cent of stroke and 27 per cent of heart attack deaths are from pollution), which is why our medical officer of health calls it the hidden killer.

Indoor pollution very closely matches the outdoor figures as at least 70 per cent of smoke comes back in the home.

Wood smoke is a serious health hazard, and these measures outlined by North Cowichan, while a good start, don’t go nearly far enough to protect public health. For example, there is a very interesting study from San Joaquin Valley in the U.S., another similar Pacific Northwest community: The study, which is also prone to inversion conditions, found that when some restrictions were placed on residential wood burning, health costs, and costs related to premature deaths, went down by millions of dollars for the entire community. According to the study authors, “Finally, it is also important to note that concentrations of urban wood smoke under the chronic inversion environments so commonly found in the Valley can be highly concentrated at the household and neighborhood scale. Wood burners as well as the general public must understand that these localized spikes in wood smoke inhalation create an unjustifiable concentration of risk, particularly to vulnerable groups such as elders and children, i.e. environmental injustice. Furthermore, the public and those most vulnerable would benefit from a greater public recognition of the particularly harmful effects triggered by the various chemical species found in wood smoke. San Joaquin Valley media sources as well are not sufficiently appraised of these health risks. As a result, they tend to inadequately emphasize the health risks posed from wood smoke relative to other pollutants.”

There is an excellent website DSAWP (Doctors & Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution), to garner information on this valuable topic. One of the main changes the Fresh Air Cowichan Team would like to see is, if a house is sold the appliance is removed and no new woodstoves or fireplaces go in new homes.


Fresh Air Cowichan Team