During the recent cold spell, it’s likely many Los Angeles County residents cozied up next to their fireplaces to keep warm, unaware that burning wood could is restricted when air pollution levels are higher than usual.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s “Check Your Burn” program hopes to improve air quality during the fall and winter months – when fireplace use is the highest – by encouraging residents to check no-burn alerts before turning on their wood-burning fireplaces, backyard fire pits or wood stoves.
Alerts are issued by SCAQMD for 24-hours in specific areas or the entire South Coast Air Basin, which includes Orange County and the non-desert portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
While 88 percent of air emissions in the region come from mobile sources, according to SCAQMD, wood burning can emit harmful levels of pollution. The air pollution agency estimates that more than 1 million households in the South Coast Air Basin actively burn wood in their fireplace. The smoke from those fireplaces can emit more than five tons of harmful PM2.5, a fine particle that increases air pollution levels that can cause throat, eye irritation, and aggravate asthma and other respiratory symptoms.
Air pollution experts warn that breathing high levels of fine particulate matter over a long period can lead to serious health problems.
“Residential burning emits pollution at such a low level it can spread at ground level and enter homes, which can be detrimental to those with respiratory illnesses,” said SCAQMD’s Spokesman Tina Cox.
Instead of burning wood, the agency suggest residents turn to candles, electric fireplaces or upgrade to natural gas logs, which are up to 99 percent cleaner and exempt from no-burn alerts. The local, regional air pollution agency also encourages residents to take advantage of its wood stove and fireplace replacement incentive program.
Residents who do not follow restrictions could face fines as high as $500.
“We encourage everyone to do their part to improve our air quality and stay informed of no-burn days,” said SCAQMD’s Executive Officer Wayne Nastri in a statement.
Although wood-burning fireplaces and permanent outdoor wood fire pits are prohibited in new home construction, SCAQMD does not believe restrictions alone will make fireplaces and fire pits a thing of the past.
“We don’t foresee a complete phase out of residential fireplaces but rather continuing to prohibit wood burning when fine particulate pollution levels are high,” said Cox.
To sign up for no-burn alerts visit their website here.