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With Air Pollution Through The Roof, Why Was Some Burning Still Allowed?

Jan 5, 2018

Now that the storm front earlier this week cleaned up the air for much of the San Joaquin Valley, many residents may be looking forward to lighting up their wood-burning fireplaces. However, you might be surprised to learn that some burning was allowed even as air pollution reached dangerously unhealthy levels.

The San Joaquin Valley air district regulates Valley emissions, and their winter wood-burning restrictions come in two flavors: No burning at all, or burning allowed only on registered devices--which burn more cleanly than conventional fireplaces but not as cleanly as not burning at all. And this middle ground is what was allowed in many Valley counties in much of the last two weeks.

That’s because wood burning restrictions follow a hard-and-fast rule. As district representative Jaime Holt explains, when particle pollution falls under a certain level, burning on registered devices is allowed, even if the air smells bad and is visibly smoggy. "So it is not an arbitrary decision," she says.

Holt says the air district may change this rule later this year as it updates its plan to meet the EPA’s air pollution targets. "Perhaps it’s going to get to the point where there are going to be much fewer days where even those registered devices can be used," Holt says.

Dolores Barajas-Weller, however, would like to see tighter burning restrictions, even on days when air pollution is low. “People might be allowed to burn their fireplace today, which really is counterproductive,” Barajas-Weller says, “because that means just in a day or two we’re going to be right back to where we started.”

Particle pollution levels over the past few weeks were the highest they’ve been since the drought.