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Love the Sun, Hate the Air Quality.

The increased risk of air pollution is leading to fireplace wars.

Ah, another stunning day here in Paradise. Hard to believe this is winter. We spent the holidays with my parents up in Marin. Given the sunny weather, we wanted to enjoy ourselves by hiking and biking. Unfortunately we weren’t able to.

You see, my daughter has very mild exercise-induced asthma. However, on days like these, even relatively benign activities can require medication. 

Why? Because the air quality is so poor, it can cause her asthma to flare up. This winter the pollution in the Bay Area is as bad as it was a few years ago when fires raged in the foothills of the Sierras burning over 800,000 acres of forests and woodlands and browning our skies for weeks on end. 

Our visions of hiking and biking as a family required my daughter to take her medicine; medicine, which of course, we left at home.

So, I spent part of my holiday chasing down a refill of her prescription, which of course, had expired. 

The pharmacy did everything it could to accommodate us, but of course, they needed refill approval from her doctor. 

So, I called her doctor, who of course, was on vacation.

Sigh.

Which brings me to fireplaces. Ours raged all weekend. We burned wood and gift wrapping and boxes and anything my little nephew could find to put in it. In all that glorious blaze, it never once occurred to me I was placing my daughter (or anyone else, for that matter) at risk. 

How? I learned the reason for the current poor air quality is not forest fires or pollution from coal-powered plants. It is not even drift from the gunk they call air in China. No, the biggest contributor to smog in the Bay Area is... us.

According to Kristine Roselus, spokesperson from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), “In the winter, woodsmoke from wood-burning fireplaces is the number one source of particulate pollution in the Bay Area. In the summer, the number one contributor is our tailpipes.”  

It has gotten so bad we now have air pollution police. No-burn days have been instituted by the BAAQMD to help “spare the air.” Those not following the rules are being given $400 tickets. The problem is compliance.

Fireplace wars are igniting all over the Bay (sorry, bad pun I know). Since November 1st, BAAQMD has had over 2,200 complaints of spoilers who insist on the romance of a big fire; spoilers like me and my family.  A recent article in the Mercury News indicated one poor spoiler whose furnace was broken had neighbors hounding him to “spare the air.” I’m glad to hear his neighbors were taking action to help us all by educating those who just don’t get it. 

I wish someone had knocked on ours. I never made the connection between fireplaces and asthma (duh!). Now that I have, I see smoke from them everywhere. 

Like you, I love the romance of a crackling fire.  But I’d rather have my daughter (and the rest of us) breathing freely than ruining the air just to fuel my sentimental tendencies. 

So, if smoke is coming from your neighbor’s chimney, go on over and knock on their door. Help them understand the implications of what they are doing. You might want to bring them some of those left-over holiday cookies. Maybe it will prevent another fireplace war.

And if they don’t comply, here’s the number for the BAAQMD: 1-800-HELP-AIR, because some wars are worth fighting.

Visit www.sparetheair.org to learn more.

Here's to a healthy new year.

commuter January 02, 2012 at 06:33 PM
The smart thing to do is just not think about burning on days when it is not raining.
RobertDJames January 03, 2012 at 10:57 AM
People should never forget that real health depends how well you take care of yourself and not what health insurance you carry but I agree health insurance is important for every one. Search "Penny Medical" or online for dollar a day insurance plans.
Rebecca Pmd Healthcare January 03, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Thanks for sharing your story and providing lots of great information about effects air quality can have on asthma and exercised induced asthma. I am a patient education specialist with PMD Healthcare and I thought I’d share with you a bit of information on Spiro PD. Spiro PD is truly the world’s first personal spirometer which empowers patients and caregivers to monitor lung function anytime and anywhere, at work, school, vacation, play, and more. Spiro PD has an intuitive color touchscreen and is super easy to use and understand. You can now track lung function over days, weeks, months or even years. The information you get from Spiro PD can be uploaded to the computer with a USB and emailed directly to your doctor. Spiro PD can alert you of a declining lung function before your child begins to feel symptoms. It can also make you feel a lot more confident in making decisions about potential activity. No more guessing and no more worrying if it’s okay to play or not. Spiro PD lets you know if treatment is working and helps you take or dispense only the medication you need, at the right time, which is especially important when using steroidal medications. For more information please visit http://www.spiropd.com , Twitter http://www.twitter.com/spiropd, or Facebook http://www.facebook.com/spiropd.
Lisen Stromberg January 04, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Good strategy. Rainy day fires are better anyway!
Tom Firth January 12, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Thanks for sharing your story. I didn't have much of an opinion on wood smoke until we moved into this smoke-filled neighborhood and my son developed an unexplained, dry retching hack for the entire winter. After further study and consultation, we learned it was due to wood smoke exposure. Now I too notice the pungent and always present smell of wood smoke. I can notice the smell intermittently throughtout the day, and every night. I go out and smell the unwelcome wood smoke in the garage, and when having to venture out in the dark, I sometimes choke on a particularly heavy pocket. My opinion of wood smoke now? It's toxic, it trespasses onto my property, and it's just a Nuisance.

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