We must rethink our attitude to air pollution

When you can look outside on a brilliantly sunny day and see a haze almost entirely obscuring the mountains surrounding the Cowichan Valley, you have to question the air we’re all breathing.

It’s been so bad recently that the haze is visible at even shorter distances.

We have no doubt that those with respiratory conditions have been feeling the effects.

Worryingly, there is also a serious impact on people with things like heart disease, though it may not be so readily apparent as the wheezing and shortness of breath that can afflict people with asthma and the like.

This pollution of our air, particularly in the winter when the use of woodstoves and fireplaces goes up, and people burn stuff in their backyards – often even if there’s a burning ban – is a recurring problem that we’ve yet to solve.

The Citizen has teamed up with the Ministry of Environment and the Cowichan Valley Regional District to try to let people know about the sources of the problem, and also what they can start to do to address it.

Take a look at page 9 for the first in a series of articles we’ll be running that we hope will start a conversation about air pollution in Cowichan and what we can do to make things better.

Because it is bad. The first article in the series tells us that it may even be worse than we think for some who live in close proximity to someone who’s got an inefficient woodstove or fireplace, or who is burning stuff they shouldn’t.

There are those who will argue that they feel fine. They’re not affected by woodsmoke in the air. Burning leaves in the fall is a tradition they grew up with and the smell evokes a certain nostalgia for days gone by.

That may be well and good for you, but try to consider your neighbour who you may essentially be imprisoning in their home because they have a respiratory problem.

Consider how frightening it is for the parent down the block who has to take their child to the emergency room because they’re having a severe asthma attack.

Consider that is may well be affecting your own health in ways that you cannot measure immediately. Is it worth it?

Not everybody is going to go out and get rid of their woodstove. Nor are they going to brick up their fireplace.

But they can and should make sure that these amenities are in good working order, and that they are burning only dry wood, not sending out a choking cloud to burden the whole neighbourhood.

Industry must do its part, too, and we’d like to see some kind of commitment to modernize and cut down on emissions.

What’s clear is that the status quo isn’t cutting it.

We must change.

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