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Winter Spare the Air season comes to a close

499 complaints called in about wood burning violators in Alameda County

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District's 2014-2015 Winter Spare the Air season ended last Saturday with a total of 23 Winter Spare the Air Alerts issued.

District officials said they received a total of 3,739 wood smoke complaints from residents in areas affected by a wood-burning ban. It issued 155 tickets with 73 Bay Area residents found to be burning during the winter alert season for the first time choosing to take an online or written wood smoke awareness course in lieu of paying a $100 ticket.

Those that violated the rule a second time were subject to a $500 ticket, with fines increasing for subsequent violations.

The district received 499 complaints about wood burning violators in Alameda County during the winter months, and 576 from those living in Contra Costa County.

Jack Broadbent, the Air District's executive officer, said a persistent high pressure ridge clung off the coast of California throughout most of the winter season blocking storms that would have helped disperse air pollution. The first half of the four-month winter season had more wet days, followed by mostly dry and mild weather in the second half.

"Last year's winter weather pattern remained in place and brought with it a continuing stretch of poor air quality and no-burn days," he said. "Even with the significant reduction in wood burning, the Bay Area still exceeded national health standards on six days, and nearly exceeded another nine days, underscoring the need to continue reducing pollution from wood burning."

Wood smoke from the 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves in the region is the largest source of wintertime air pollution in the Bay Area, containing harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide, Broadbent said. Exposure to wood smoke has been linked to serious respiratory illnesses and even increased risk of heart attacks.

He said that a preliminary survey data indicates that the Wood Burning Rule is an effective instrument for reducing particulates from wood smoke. Despite 23 no-burn days, 30% of Bay Area residents indicated they are burning less wood even on days when an alert has not been issued. Surveys also indicated that 75% of Bay Area residents support the Air District's Wood Burning Rule.

The rule still requires, on a year-round basis, that residents who burn in a fireplace or outdoor fire pit burn cleanly using dry, seasoned firewood and not burn garbage, leaves or other material that would cause excessive smoke. Residents who exceed the visible smoke provision of the Wood Burning Rule could still be subject to a ticket, even outside the November to February Winter Spare the Air season.

Because of the ongoing health concerns, the Air District will begin the process of re-examining the existing Wood Burning Rule this spring, and may amend certain portions in order to increase its effectiveness. There will be workshops held throughout the Bay Area to receive public input during the rule amendment process.

Public workshops on proposed changes to the rule will be scheduled to begin in later this month and continue throughout April in nine locations. More information on the workshops is posted on the Air District website at baaqmd.gov/

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