Burning thoughts

Today’s story about wood-burning restrictions reports that San Joaquin County’s average number of no-burn days is likely to increase from 18 to 47 each winter, if officials move forward with a plan to tighten the rule.

The No. 1 comment I get on air pollution stories is probably about Stockton being stuck into the same air district as dirtier Fresno or Bakersfield — and therefore being subject to the same regulations.

Dave Smith, the firewood dealer quoted in today’s story, told me, “How our air district got lumped in with Bakersfield, 200 miles away, is beyond me. Fifteen miles up the road, in Calaveras County, you can burn all you want, anytime.”

Seyed Sadredin, executive officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, pointed out that wood smoke is a highly localized pollutant.

You can smell it wafting from your neighbors’ chimneys. And if you can smell it, the tiny and deadly particles are getting inhaled into your lungs.

So when it comes to wood smoke, there is a local impact even if our air is generally cleaner than our neighbors to the south.

The district’s draft PM2.5 control report describes the fireplace measure in more detail, and includes reference to the possibility that the wood-burning threshold might be lowered only in certain parts of the Valley.

That’s not the preferred choice, Sadredin told me.

“The federal government and the Clean Air Act sees this as a single air basin, not eight separate entities,” he said.

It may be, however, that people with EPA-certified cleaner-burning wood stoves might be granted some kind of leniency to burn when folks with open hearth fireplaces cannot, he added.

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