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November 4, 2009 > Winter spare the air season

Winter spare the air season

Submitted By Kristine Roselius

In an effort to protect public health, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the regional agency chartered with protecting air quality in the Bay Area, opened the Winter Spare the Air season on November 1 and is enforcing a regulation that restricts wood burning in the Bay Area through February 28, 2010.

Wood smoke is the largest source of winter-time air pollution in the Bay Area. In certain winter weather conditions, the air remains still. When this occurs, the Air District calls a Winter Spare the Air Alert.

"This winter, Bay Area residents must check before they burn," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Air District. "It's illegal to burn wood or fire logs when a Winter Spare the Air Alert is in effect. Wood-smoke pollution is associated with a number of serious health risks and is particularly harmful to children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems."

This winter is the second winter season the Wood Burning Rule is in effect. The rule passed in July 2008.

Between November 1, 2009, and February 28, 2010, the Air District will declare a Winter Spare the Air Alert when air pollution is forecast to reach unhealthy levels. During an Alert, the use of wood-burning devices, including fireplaces, pellet stoves, wood stoves and outdoor fire pits, is forbidden. There are expected to be approximately 15-20 Spare the Air Alerts.

An Alert will be declared the day before it takes effect. Each day by 2 p.m., the Air District will issue an air quality forecast. If air quality is expected to be unhealthy, an Alert will be called for the next day and remain in force for 24 hours - one calendar day - active from midnight-to-midnight.

Those who burn during an Alert will receive a warning for the first violation and a $400 ticket for the second. The ticket amount will increase for subsequent violations, depending on the severity of the infraction. Residents and businesses that burn wood as their only source of heat are exempt.

Under the new rule, only EPA-certified wood stoves or fireplace inserts, pellet stoves or natural gas devices can be sold or installed in new construction or remodels. The new rule also places year-round prohibitions on excessive smoke and on the burning of garbage and other harmful materials in fireplaces and woodstoves.

Wood smoke is a major source of winter-time air pollution in the Bay Area and contains harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide, as well as toxins such as dioxin, which is linked to increased cancer rates in adults. In the winter, wood smoke from the 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves in the Bay Area accounts for about a third of the harmful particulate pollution in the air.

For more information, visit or or call 1-877-4-NO-BURN. Sign up for e-mail Air Alerts at or phone alerts by calling 800-430-1515.

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