By Ashlee Larrison
With winter weather making its way to the Valley, the season of keeping warm by the wood-burning fireplace is upon us. Yet that very action has consequences greater than just the messy clean up.
Director of the Maricopa County Air Quality Department and Clean Air Make More campaign, Philip McNeely, said he expects many in the Valley to “reach for the matches” over the holidays and light up the fireplace. “This collective activity causes increased particulate matter for our already sensitive skies, especially on days with inversion. Of all of the pollution sources, wood burning is one that we individually can control, but we need everyone’s help,” he explained.
The action of burning wood has been proven to contaminate the air with carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, as well as numerous irritant gases that can cause lung damage. Wood smoke has been known to lower one’s immune system functionality, making it difficult for the lungs to protect themselves.
Wood smoke also allows lower respiratory infections to have an advantage particularly in children, infants and those with asthma, making them more susceptible to infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, as of this summer, found a solution to help Valley residents find a better use for their old fireplaces while helping clean up the air above. The Maricopa County Air Quality Department has developed the fireplace retrofit pilot program.
The initial budget is set at $300,000, allowing 200 homes to have their chimneys converted from wood burning fireplaces to natural gas (if the home is already plumbed for natural gas). Or, as an alternative, the county will retrofit a wood-burning fireplace with an air pollution reduction device. About $1,500 is expected to be spent on each home in the pilot program, coming from funding collected from penalty and settlement money, with no charge being made to the resident. The boundaries for the programs pilot will be from Northern Avenue to Baseline Road, and 59th avenue to 16th Street.
Other alternatives to wood burning include transforming fireplaces and fire pits into permanent flower or plant holders, or candle displays. Many home décor and hobby stores offer workshops on how to transform these spaces into beautiful mantels, minus the fire.
Particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Mitigate fine particulate matter, or PM-2.5 emissions, are known to have harmful effects on residents, ending up deep in the lungs. In Maricopa County, PM-2.5 concentrations have been significant during the months of November through February. McNeely believes that the fireplace retrofit program will reduce those PM-2.5 levels by up to 75 percent.
District 5 Supervisor Steve Gallardo said the Fireplace Retrofit program would provide added safety for residents as well as keep the air cleaner.
“It’s critical to take a proactive approach not only to improve community well-being, but also to reduce or eliminate costs associated with violations. We look forward to seeing the results of this pilot program, and to helping other residents of Maricopa County who can benefit from this service,” Gallardo said.
For more information about the Fireplace Retrofit Program, call 602-372-WOOD (9663) or visit www.CleanAirMakeMore.com.