Spare the Air Day in effect for the Bay Area

December 1, 2010 9:27:59 AM PST
The colder it gets, the better a warm fire sounds, but you'll have to skip it on Wednesday, Dec 1. It's the first cold weather Spare the Air Day of the season and doctors tell us they're seeing more patients suffering from the bad air.

People usually associate spare the air days with hot weather because that is usually when the sun bakes our car exhaust, producing dangerous ozone. However, in the winter, people burn wood which surpasses the amount of pollutants made by cars. It smothers the Bay Area and that particulate matter can actually work its way into your blood stream.

It's hard to beat a back yard fire on a chilly night, but with 1.4 million fireplaces, wood stoves, and fire pits in the Bay Area, this becomes a health hazard.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, 30 air monitoring stations around the Bay Area recorded huge spikes in particulate matter.

"I certainly saw smoke coming out of people's chimneys because they were enjoying fires, but it wasn't bothersome. I didn't smell it when I walked out my door," said Heidi Ross from Berkeley.

But health experts say just because you don't smell it, doesn't mean it is not affecting you. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is now calling for a Spare the Air alert on Wednesday -- the first of the season.

"When we have a winter Spare the Air alert, we do not allow wood burning, the use of manufactured logs, pellet stoves, or outdoor fire pits or chimneys," said Kristine Rozelius from the BAAQMD.

Cold, still nights allow massive amounts of low lying particulate matter to blanket the Bay Area. The eventual goal is to get everyone to switch to gas logs.

"Wood smoke is the largest contributor to wintertime air pollution in the Bay Area," said Rozelius.

Kaiser Permanente allergist Dr. Peg Strug says she's seeing more emergency room visits around this time of year.

"It can irritate the airways. It can aggravate asthma and other respiratory disorders," said Strug.

Wood smoke also contains harmful air pollutants like carbon monoxide and dioxin.

"Some of these particles have been known to cause cancer, but in terms of people's exposure when they're burned via fire places, wood burning stove, that has not been studied extensively," said Strug.

Violating the ban will get you a warning and after that it's a $400 fine.

You can sign up for Spare the Air phone alerts by calling (877) 466-2876 or going to Sparetheair.org.


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