Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: air pollution


We all have a stake in getting soot out of our air – and our lungs

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

When a burn ban notice appears on the front page of The News Tribune (under Today’s Weather), consider yourself warned. It’s not a polite suggestion; violation could mean a hefty fine – up to $1,000.

People once could routinely get away with violating burn bans. There wasn’t enough enforcement, or even much of a compelling reason to go after violators. If detected, they’d often just get a warning and told not to do it again.

But times have changed, and local governments have a big stake in locating those who are contributing to the single greatest source of air pollution in this region: wood burners. They’re cooperating with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to augment its corps of 12 inspectors; now about 60 people are available to target burn-ban violations in the Tacoma-Pierce County Smoke Reduction Zone.

That zone – which extends south and east from Tacoma to encompass Lakewood, University Place, Steilacoom, Spanaway, Puyallup and Edgewood – is out of compliance with federal air-quality standards during winter months when people are more likely to build fires.
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Way too much crackdown for a few days of bad air

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

On about 10 days a year, Tacoma and much of Pierce County fail to meet federal standards for “fine particulates.” That kind of air pollution is created by motor vehicles, as well as by burning wood in old, uncertified stoves, fireplaces and the open air – and it can pose a health threat for people with respiratory problems.

Those 10 or so days of poor air quality have given the region an unenviable distinction: It’s the state’s only “non-attainment area” for fine particulate standards.

Because the 10 days are most likely to fall during cold weather, when more people are burning wood to keep warm, wood-burning is the main target for regulators charged with improving the area’s air quality. The air police also know it’s easier to get people to burn less than to drive less.
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South Sound faces a reckoning over wood-burning

Wood smoke is a major air pollutant in the South Sound. (Staff file photo)

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

We do love our wood fires in the South Sound.

We savor the crackling sound and romantic atmosphere they create in our fireplaces. We enjoy the camraderie of gathering around an outdoor fire pit on a chilly evening. And we really like how burning wood can take the chill off the house on a cold night without running up the utility bill.

But that love affair is getting us a bad reputation. The unusually high number of people who burn wood – for whatever reason – is a big reason the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia metropolitan region ranks 18th on the American Lung Association’s list of U.S. communities with the highest fine-particle pollution, which can pose a serious health threat to people with asthma and heart conditions.

It’s also why the greater Tacoma-Pierce County area is the state’s only “nonattainment area” – which means it persistently exceeds federal Environmental Protection Agency air standards. And unlike the lung association’s ranking, the EPA’s formal designation comes with consequences.

It means that state and federal regulators will be more insistent that the community take steps to improve air quality. When the biggest, controllable culprit is wood smoke, it’s not that hard to figure out what’s going to happen: Rules are likely to be tightened over who can burn, when they can burn and how they can burn. Read more »