Monday 29 September 2008

bonfires and leaf burning

It is that season again. Leaf burning is an iffy proposition at best. In the fall in Muskoka our leaves are very wet and do not burn well; we just had rain a few days ago. Many Muskokans put their leaves into a metal drum and go to it. My neighbours have started already, the photo at the top was last year's efforts - biggie. We have strict by-laws that govern burning outdoors. One couple faced a $600 fine! Bracebridge has a by-law control officer on duty until 4:30 p.m., here is their list of by-laws.

When there is a Fire Ban in effect (full explanation here!), as there is right now, no burning, fireworks, etc. is allowed at all. When the Fire Ban is no longer in effect, then burning is allowed 2 hours before sunset through to 2 hours after sunrise. (Apr 1 - Oct 31... No Daytime Burning)

If folks burn wet leaves outdoors you can see by the smoke that they release pollutants: carcinogenic hydrocarbons ,that go into the atmosphere. This kind of pollution affects those who breathing problems: asthma, seniors, smokers and those with chronic lung disease. Many people in Muskoka burn wet leaves, or use wood furnaces, and the smoke drifts across the highway as you pass. It smells like something familiar, but as we learn more about the environment, we understand how harmful these practices can be.

It is difficult to speak to aging neighbours who have burned leaves since before I was born! Between the fireworks, and the other environmental invasions it is hard to make a dent. do not know how to influence them, as they pooh-pooh what is sommon knowledge amongst me, my generation and my children's generation.

As we dump our waste into the earth's atmosphere, we are putting carbon oxides from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, e.g., transportation, industry and home heating, into the air we breathe. Coal and oil fuel sources reacts with gases in the atmosphere to produce sulfuric acid (acid rain).
  • Carbon monoxide - reduces the blood’s ability to supply oxygen to body tissues. Even small amounts can stress your heart and reduce your ability to exercise.
  • Oxides of nitrogen – can lower a child’s resistance to lung infections.
  • Hydrocarbons – can injure the lungs and make breathing difficult.
There are primary pollutants from natural events such as fires and volcanic eruptions, and secondary pollutants formed by the interaction of natural and human-made chemicals. We can control that latter and stop burning leaves, for example.

Connecticut's Dep't of Environmental Protection advises against wood furnaces (see photo of this small outdoor structure - they smell is horrible). This furnace burns wood to run a household. It takes large logs and you can tell be the smell and the amount of white smoke, that they are not functioning as efficiently as other devices.
For those who burn wood to save on other fuel costs, Canadian insurance companies require that stoves meet CSA requirements and have it assessed. The B.C. government provides some cautions against particulates that pollute:
1. Select a stove that's certified clean-burning and tested to CSA BB415.1-00 or EPA 1990 standards.
2. Make sure it's the proper size for its location and use. Bigger is not always better.
3. Make sure it's properly installed and inspected.
4. Avoid smouldering fires by using proper burning techniques.
5. Use only dry, seasoned, firewood split to the right size for your stove.
6. Reduce your need for wood fuel by making your house
more energy-efficient (caulk windows and doors, etc.).
We had our old stove taken away, since the chimney and stove pipes were beyond current by-laws, could be recycled, and it was an old, inefficient stove. It was sad, but we installed an electric stove to keep people warm in our cooler shoulder seasons. Our current wood stove, the cat loves it, we carefully stoke and we put in a hot, efficient fire. Of course, you can see that our kindling and wood pile is too close to the stove and we move these during fire season. Usually we burn wood once the deep cold sets in. We have passive solar heat in our front windows. On those cool mornings the sun heats us up enough to take away the chill. Our new, efficient propane furnace heats the main floor only on those colder days. The heat rises and we have no need to heat the second floor. Once we hit the double-digit numbers we can crank up the stove in the morning and let it die once we get enough heat. Damping down a fire is not good as it causes smoke and pollution.

If you burn damp wood, which is much of the wood outdoors at cottages, you are dumping hydrocarbons into the air. This site illustrates current levels of ozone pollution in North America.

Health Canada says,
Internally generated airborne pollutants fall into one of three categories:
  • those formed in combustion processes for heating and cooking;
  • those derived from construction materials and furnishings;
  • those related to human activity or presence.

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