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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Utah's Wood Burn Program


Utah has a 'wood burning program', which may seem strange to other people, but we need it. We have a unique area, we are in a 'bowl' that is surrounded by mountains. That causes cold air to be trapped near the ground, warm air is on the top, and in between is sandwiched a layer of pollution.

Sometimes you can 'taste' the air, that's how bad it gets. Utah tries to regulate when people can use their wood burning stoves, to help us all breathe better.

  • On red burn days, you are not allowed to use a wood burning stove. EXCEPT if it's your only source of heat. (You will receive a citation and fine from your local health department.) They also ask people to drive as little as possible on those days.

  • On yellow burn days, they ask for a voluntary 'no burn' day. They also caution people to drive as little as possible.

  • On green burn days, you are allowed to burn your wood stove.

So, why the regulations? Because the pollution creates tiny particles that can become stuck inside the lungs. Not good for those of us with asthma. It also affects people with cardiovascular disease. To visit the website about our Wood Burn Program, click here.

Our family has personally experienced problems with this. During one bad winter, my two youngest kids - Son #2, and daughter Kitty, were both hospitalized at the same time with asthma flare ups. They were able to share a room at the hospital together. In fact, Kitty was in the hospital on her birthday. I was trying to contact all of the parents to let them know that the birthday party was cancelled because Kitty was in the hospital. Stopping by one house, I noticed their fire place going. I asked them why they were using it during an inversion and mandatory "no burn." The wife rather bashfully said that her husband wanted to see if they could go all winter without using their furnace! At that point, I couldn't hold it in any longer and burst into tears, letting her know that my kids were both in the hospital-due in part to them using their wood burning fireplace. They only lived two blocks away from us, and the kids had to walk by her house twice a day, to and from school. Not to mention, the house was a block away from the school, so the kids were breathing in those tiny particles during recess too.

I think by that point, I was asking the teachers to keep Son #2 and Kitty in from recess, to protect them, but the damage had already been done. That's the hardest thing about asthma, is trying to get people to see that what they do can affect us, and yes, even lead to hospitalizations.

A recent study done by the Asthma Program from the Utah Department of Health has shown an increase in Emergency Department visits on days 5-7 of an inversion. To read a summary of the study, click here. Now I know our family is not alone in our suffering. Some people can be treated and released from the Emergency Department, others (like my kids) usually end up being admitted to the hospital.

So, if you live in Utah, please think about it before you use a wood burning stove or fireplace-especially on yellow or red burn days. Yes, it looks cozy and inviting to light a fire. But there are those of us out there who are paying a price for you sitting by your cozy fire.

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