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As the cooler weather sets in and the holiday season approaches, wood burning in fireplaces, outdoor fire pits, and even fireworks have a big impact on air quality.

Finding Pollution Solutions
Agencies launch winter campaigns

Environment, AirQuality

Fall is finally here, and we can’t wait to replace shorts and sandals with jackets and boots. But the change in season also brings winter pollution challenges. As the cooler weather sets in and the holiday season approaches, wood burning in fireplaces, outdoor fire pits, and even fireworks have a big impact on air quality. This can force people inside, especially those with respiratory or pulmonary disease.

Ironically, it is the wonderful winter weather, along with our own activities, that play a role in our daily air quality. 

During the chilly winter nights, cool air sinks toward the lowest parts of the Valley and warmer air sits on top. This creates an inversion over the Valley, which traps and concentrates air pollutants near the ground. It’s why you may see a brown, hazy cloud blanketing the region when the winter weather is calm.

Each of us can do our part to ensure the air outside stays clean and healthy. The Maricopa County Air Quality Department and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality are launching winter campaigns to address air quality during a challenging time of year.

Burn Cleaner. Burn Better. 
The Maricopa County Air Quality Department encourages residents to choose alternatives to burning wood, such as natural gas, electric, and fireplace retrofit devices. You can help by respecting “no-burn” days. No-burn restrictions are put into effect when concentrations of small particulates are at their highest. When breathed, these small particles can cause lung ailments. This particulate matter, called PM-2.5, is often found in smoke and ash that comes from wood burning during the holidays.

“We know that around the holidays, families enjoy the fireplace tradition,” says Maricopa County Air Quality Department Director Phil McNeely. “We hope that residents will work with us in finding cleaner alternatives and avoid costly and burdensome requirements associated with failure to attain clean air standards.”

Maricopa County offers two fireplace retrofit options to some parts of the Valley, including a free air pollution reduction device insert or a low-cost natural gas conversion option.  If a home is already plumbed for natural gas, the county will provide a voucher up to $2,000 to cover the cost of the installation of a natural gas log set. The county also offers a propane program to help residents upgrade from a wood burning fire pit to cleaner burning propane at a reduced cost.

A worker installs the connection to a new natural gas burning fireplace.Give the Give of Clean Air
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) also is hoping to get the attention of residents with its new campaign, “Give the Gift of Clean Air.” 

Similar to Maricopa County, ADEQ wants residents to take a look at fireplace retrofits, as well as swapping out a wood burning backyard fire pit for one fueled by propane. 

“If you are not ready to make the change, make sure you are burning seasoned wood, as drier wood burns cleaner and hotter,” says ADEQ Air Quality Division Director Daniel Czecholinski. “Remember, when a Health Watch or High Pollution Advisory is issued by ADEQ, Maricopa County enforces a No Burn Day. That means no recreational fires are allowed on those days.” 

There are additional steps residents can take throughout the year. ADEQ suggests that residents make a New Year’s resolution to “Commit to One Day” of using alternative transportation or telecommuting to reduce pollution for everyone in Arizona.  

For cars that fail emissions testing, ADEQ offers a voluntary vehicle repair program. Residents can get up to $550 for emissions related repairs. You also may want to check out an electric vehicle rebate offered by Nissan with an ADEQ emissions test receipt.   

MAG thanks the Maricopa Quality Air Quality Department and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality for contributing to this story. For more information, contact Maricopa County at www.cleanairmakemore.com or ADEQ at www.azdeq.gov.

Published October 29, 2019

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