The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is issuing its first Winter Spare the Air Alert of the season for Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, which bans burning wood, manufactured fire logs or any other solid fuel, both indoors and outdoors for 24 hours.
"Current weather conditions are expected to allow air pollution to build up to unhealthy levels on New Year’s Day," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Air District. "Sitting by the fire during the holidays may conjure up fond memories, but it’s important that everyone forgoes burning during this alert so we can all enjoy a happy, healthy holiday."
Wood smoke is the largest source of wintertime air pollution in the Bay Area, according to district officials. The smoke contains harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide, as well as toxins which are 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 contributes about one-third of the harmful particulate pollution in the air.
District officials cite a cold, still weather pattern that is over the Bay Area as the reason for the New Year's Day alert. The weather pattern is expected to continue through mid-week. During these types of weather conditions the earth cools the air close to the ground, which creates an inversion layer of warmer air above. When there is no wind, wood smoke and other pollution trapped under this lid of warm air can build up rapidly to unhealthy levels throughout the region.
During a Winter Spare the Air Alert, it is illegal for Bay Area residents and businesses to use their fireplaces, woodstoves and inserts, pellet stoves, outdoor fire pits, or any other wood-burning devices.
Exposure to wood smoke -- like cigarette smoke -- has been linked to serious respiratory illnesses and even increased risk of heart attacks. Breathing fine particles or soot accounts for more than 90 percent of premature deaths related to air pollution.
The ban will be in effect in for Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, southern Sonoma and southwestern Solano counties. An exemption is available for residents and businesses that burn wood as their sole source of heat and have no other permanently installed heating source.
The Winter Spare the Air season runs from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. There are several ways that people can check to see if it’s okay to burn wood during the season. The daily burn status can be found:
- On the Air District Web sites: www.baaqmd.gov or www.sparetheair.org
- Via the toll-free hotline 1-877-4-NO-BURN (complaints can also be filed via the hotline)
- By signing up for Air Alerts at www.sparetheair.org or by signing up for phone alerts at 1-800-430-1515.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (www.baaqmd.gov) is the regional agency responsible for protecting air quality in the nine-county Bay Area. For more information about Spare the Air, visit www.sparetheair.org.
-- The Bay Area Air Quality Management District contributed to this report