Any suggestion of banning backyard burning in the Cowichan Valley always garners an outcry.
This in spite of the fact that several jurisdictions within that geographic boundary have already done so, including the City of Duncan, Town of Lake Cowichan and Town of Ladysmith.
There is certainly no campaign we’ve ever heard about from any of these jurisdictions to bring the smoky, smelly practice back.
This isn’t a question of trying to impose an urban value on a rural area.
This is about trying to clean up the air that we all breathe.
There are many traditions that have been reinvented or simply buried over the years because we came to understand that they had undesirable effects.
There is no question that backyard burning is unhealthy.
One of the things that makes it more so is that far too many of the people who regularly burn their waste care nothing for the rules that are in place governing the practice.
Many disregard the burning windows and burn whenever they feel like it.
Unsurprisingly they also tend to disregard whether there’s a good venting index on the days when they light up their pile.
The composition of their combustibles is also often an issue that makes their burning particularly unpalatable.
Who hasn’t seen folks burning piles of wet leaves and sodden wood, creating a miasma that hazes the air, sometimes for kilometres in the direction the wind is blowing?
Many seem to feel that throwing a bit of garbage into the mix isn’t a big deal either.
But it is a big deal, particularly to those who are vulnerable, such as children, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.
Citizen reporter Robert Barron noted in his Friday front-page article on backyard burnng that a CVRD air shed protective strategy from 2015 notes 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.
Those are alarming statistics.
We have to take our geography into account and acknowledge that, ringed with mountains, our valley tends to hold in the pollution we create.
Does it have to be your child, grandchild or father who can’t breathe on an otherwise beautiful, sunny spring day before you consider the alternatives to burning?
Yes, we’ve done it this way for a long time.
But the benefits to individuals are quickly being outweighed by the collective downside.