January 21st, 2021

Let’s ensure clean air for everyone

By Letter to the Editor on May 30, 2020.

Near the start of the pandemic, my son and I saw a “We are all in this together” sign in the front window of a long-term care residence, on an evening when that neighbourhood’s air was permeated with toxic smoke from backyard fires.

An April 24 Lethbridge Herald article reported that “City Council encourages residents to celebrate Canada Day in their own backyards this year.” But can residents enjoy fresh air in their yards? The atmosphere doesn’t recognize fences. One wood fire can pollute a neighbourhood, potentially harming a patient recovering from COVID-19, an asthmatic child, or a grandparent living with COPD.

If there was ever a time to care about air quality and the well-being of others it’s now, amid a virus that attacks the lungs. A silver lining of the crisis is the emergence of widespread concern about providing for everyone’s needs and helping those most vulnerable, a new shift “from me to we.” In 2020, will municipal leaders make public wellness a top priority?

As Dr. Maria Neira of the World Health Organization said in a recent interview with the editor of Air Quality News Magazine (Issue 3, May 2020) on reducing air pollution as much as possible, “My invitation to mayors is the sooner you do it, and the more ambitious you are, you will be accountable for an important health benefit for your citizens. Think about that. If you postpone by one year, you will postpone the reduction of deaths. I hope this will be a motivation.”

We truly are all in this together. We all share the air. As studies have shown, wood-burning bans save lives. It would be helpful, caring, and responsible, especially at this time, if city officials were to encourage people to avoid burning wood in residential areas, so everyone can breathe safe, healthy air on July 1 and every day.

Cathy Baiton


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Be kind of cool if the Herald allowed the posting of pictures. Flogging a dead horse comes to mind.

Cathy Baiton

Air pollution kills over 7 million people a year globally and is a leading cause of problems including birth defects and illnesses including lung cancer. Is that “a dead horse”, (anonymous commenter) buckwheat?

Wood burning bans save lives. Is that a dead horse?

Postponing reductions in air pollution, through simple measures like implementing health-protecting wood burning bans wherever possible, postpones a reduction in rates of preventable disease and deaths. Is that a dead horse?

Your unnecessary wood fire can seriously harm a patient recovering from COVID-19 (a respiratory illness), a child with asthma who might be visiting at a house nearby, or an elderly resident who suffers from an existing heart or lung condition. Is repeating these inconvenient truths also “flogging a dead horse” in your selfish mind?

The issue of wood burning pollution (last night the neighbourhood of one of my loved ones was filled with it) might bring to mind the image of “flogging a dead horse” for someone who lacks social conscience, concern for the environment, and empathy for others.

When I think of wood smoke pollution, the image of a child reaching for an asthma inhaler, or a heart patient clutching their chest in pain, or an elderly person on oxygen come to mind. And so does a vision of a better world that protects everyone’s right to breathe healthy air.


air pollution from the filthy and way undermanaged industrial complex is one thing, and we can agree that addressing this issue in a for real way is long overdue. however, indoors, wood fires can help offset the exorbitant costs and damage related to fossil fuels. in fact, the pollution related to fossil fuel extraction and its combustion cause a great deal more pollution of all types than do wood fires (not to be confused with forest fires). a well managed backyard fire from dry hardwood thwarts mosquitoes, sets a nice, warm atmosphere, and kills airborne germs, viruses and the like – a most enjoyable way to prevent covid.

Cathy Baiton

Air pollution from any source is harmful. Far from being an “enjoyable way to prevent covid,” it’s associated with worsened COVID-19 outcomes. Public health experts like UBC’s Dr. Michael Brauer have pointed out that protecting clean air (through measures including wood burning bans) is more important now than ever.

Both indoor and outdoor wood burning are major contributors to air pollution worldwide. Indoor wood burning is a serious climate and public health problem in cooler months, just as unnecessary outdoor wood burning is in warmer months, when everyone should be able to enjoy being outside breathing healthy air.

As we move toward clean, sustainable energy, organizations like the American Lung Association recommend that people avoid burning wood in homes where less polluting alternatives are available. The WHO has urged municipal governments to help cities shift away from the most polluting fuels: diesel, coal and wood.

In this article about the harmful impacts of the pellet burning industry on BC forests, ecologist Mary Booth points out that ‘Burning wood emits more CO2 per unit of energy than burning coal or gas or oil,’ It also emits considerably higher levels of carcinogenic particulate matter PM2.5 which also contributes to climate change and harms health.


sorry biff but buckwheat had the needed response.don quixote baiton rides again.

Cathy Baiton

, if you know a parent who has a child with asthma, or someone whose grandparent has a lung or heart condition, or if you happen to know someone who has a friend or relative with COVID-19, maybe ask them if they think doing what we can to help protect clean air and the health of our fellow citizens is titling at windmills. Maybe they’ll let you know why clean air matters.


cathy – begging your pardon, but there currently is too little clean energy. everything we create in order to burn fouls the air, and many of the current sources further foul the land and water. in other words, in order to burn natural gas, oil, coal, create wind turbines and solar panels etc., the mining/manufacturing related air pollution around those, i believe, is more immense than wood burning in fireplaces/stoves/pits.

Cathy Baiton

Since May 2009 when I started learning about this issue and trying to help raise awareness about the need for clean, healthy air in neighbourhoods, I’ve found that many wood burners want to believe that, in order to try to justify putting smoke into their neighbourhood air, even when they know it’s harmful to their neighbours’ health. The wood burning industry also lobbies relentlessly against clean air legislation, while promoting the same notion.

Wood burning is even more polluting than fossil fuels and we need to protect trees, not burn them. We also can’t keep burning “waste wood” which treats the air, our world’s precious shared resource, as a landfill. As with garbage left on the ground, when it comes to air pollution, “there is no away.”

The health impacts of residential wood burning are immediate, and are experienced right in the homes and neighbourhoods where children and others live – and where they can’t escape breathing smoke-polluted air that enters nearby homes even through closed windows and doors. As another Lethbridge resident wrote in a letter to the Herald published Dec. 4/10: “As for car exhaust, I have never smelled it in my living room. But I have often smelled local wood smoke there, sometimes for days at a time….”

Some jurisdictions have actually measured much higher than usual levels of air pollution during the lockdown, even with reduced traffic and industrial activity, and have reported that the cause has been due to more people burning wood at home and in their yards during this time when clean air is especially important.

Please help to protect the health of your neighbours and the quality of air they breathe, by not burning wood, as recommended by organizations like the American Lung Association, the World Health Organization – and the Canadian Lung Association, which advises that people avoid burning wood in residential areas.

Fedup Conservative

Cathy is right. I’ve been had an Asthma problem for 60 years and it’s a well known fact that Alberta has the highest percentage per capita in North America of children with Asthma.

Our family is a perfect example of it. My parents came to Alberta in 1938 from B.C. They had three children, all three developed asthma problems,along with our father, yet none of my 32 cousins, and aunts and uncles, living in B.C. , nor any of their children have had any problem with asthma.