In the wake of new evidence that wood smoke is more detrimental to air quality than previously believed, the Salt Lake City Council will begin considering whether to regulate wood burning year-round.
Presently, Utah regulations dictate that wood burning is not allowed in areas of seven northern Utah counties that are not in compliance with federal standards for particulate pollution on red air quality days during winter.
Enforcement is based on complaints, and fines can be as high as $299.
Recently, air-quality advocates have urged the Utah Air Quality Board to consider year-round regulation. The board has formed a working group to focus on wood smoke. Curtailing burning would reduce harmful small particulate pollution called PM2.5, according to new data.
City Councilman Luke Garrott, who put the wood-burning issue on the council’s work session agenda Tuesday, said the body wants to learn more about wood smoke and whether it should seek burning restrictions throughout the year.
“Wood burning can be harmful to health. But no one wants to do something rash,” he said. “Recreational burning [in fireplaces and outdoor fire pits] could be restricted, but not banned. It will be interesting to see how far the council is willing to go.”
Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, who also is a clean-air advocate, said restricting wood burning throughout the year would be “premature” at this point.
She acknowledges that Wasatch Front air is at its worst in winter and summer, the two periods residents are most likely to burn wood. But, she added, the public does not yet know enough about the ill effects of wood burning to support stricter regulations.
She would like to see a public education program on wood smoke led by the state as part of the $500,000 clean-air campaign recently announced through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“We would be the beneficiaries of a plan coming from the state,” she said.
In terms of winter wood burning in fireplaces, Mendenhall said authorities should not crack down further without helping people “transition” to other heating sources. That could be accomplished through such things as grants and tax credits.
As part of the council’s discussion, it will take up a nuisance factor for outdoor burning. That was originally requested by former Councilman Soren Simonsen, who pointed to constituents living next to a man who worships in a sweat lodge in his backyard.
`“We like burning wood. It’s something humans have done for a long time,” Garrott said. “But it can be a nuisance, like noise.”