Few images are cozier than that of friends and family snuggled around the hearth on a rainy winter’s eve.
And few images are as frightening as the desperate mom dialing 911 when her child, with a severe asthma attack, is gasping for air.
There could be a link between the two images.
“Studies by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District suggest that between 20 and 50 percent of air polluting particulate matter comes from home fireplaces and wood stoves,” says a report issued last week by the city’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission.
Because of the possible danger to health, the advisory commission is considering recommending restrictions on wood-burning fireplaces.
They have outlined a panoply of proposals, from educating people to the potential harm from the particulates to the more drastic step of banning wood-burning stoves when homes are sold.
The commission is asking for community input.
Interim Planning Director Wendy Cosin said the city has no data on the specifics of how or where wood-burning stoves affect residents.
The city recently had a consultant conduct a one-day study in the city to study particulates and emissions in the air, but Cosin said the study wasn’t sophisticated enough to separate out the residue from wood-burning stoves from other kinds of air pollutants.
The CEAC began to look at the question in January after receiving a letter from Bay Area Air Quality Management District Executive Officer Ellen Garvey which said, in part: “The Air District is concerned with wood burning because fireplaces and wood stoves generate 40 percent of the particulate matter in the Bay Area during the winter months. Of greatest concern are the fine particles, which can lodge deep in the lungs causing permanent lung damage and increasing mortality.”
Particulates are associated with aggravated asthma, aggravated coughing, chronic bronchitis, and even premature death, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Wood smoke contains lead cadmium and arsenic. “Wood smoke can damage sperm and cause birth defects,” says the group Burning Issues, a Point Arena-based organization dedicated to clean energy research and education.
The smoke also generates carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and toxic air pollutants, Garvey said.
Realtors are among those who have questioned restrictions on wood-burning stoves when homes are sold. Earlier in the year, the Berkeley Association of Realtors passed a resolution in opposition.
Lois Kadosh. association president, pointed to some of the beautiful old Berkeley homes – craftsmen houses and Maybecks – whose fireplaces are the “centerpiece” of the home. “People have an emotional attachment to fireplaces,” she said.
She said it would be unfair for someone who bought such a home, not to be allowed to use “a beautiful part of the house.”
Kadosh said the realtors, however, have open minds on the question. “We’d like to see the actual statistics,” she said. “Where are they getting their facts?”