In the spirit of a regular segment on the comedy news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, we have to ask why open burning is still a thing?
As evident from the thick grey plumes, the stagnant low-lying clouds and the accompanying odour, burning season is upon us once again – that time of year when people can purify their lands with God-given fire.
Got some wood waste to be rid of? Burn it. How about organic debris from gardening, land clearing or fall leaves. Throw that on too. Logging slash? Add it to the pile.
Disposal by fire is cheap, quick and OK for the environment, well, in the sense that it cuts back on carbon emissions from trucking such waste to the landfill, where it can be separated for reuse in things like compost and biomass fuel.
A downside to the open burning wood waste – as noted in a B.C. Ministry of Environment policy paper on Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation – is that it produces carbon monoxide, methane and particulate matter, which not only contributes to global warming, but can also have an potentially nasty impact on human health. Particulate produced by open burning is associated with an array of health problems, from runny nose and coughing to bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and heart disease. It can also contribute to premature deaths.
If that’s not reason enough to stop the practice of open burning, how about this quote:
“Research has shown that there is no threshold below which smoke has not health effects. This means it is important to minimize the amount of smoke produced and human’s exposure to it.”
Thank you MOE, which, by the way, shares responsibility for air quality in the province with the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. Despite the health concerns noted above, the province doesn’t prohibit open burning. Instead, it’s regulated by type, size, location, venting (wind conditions), etc. That might be useful if burns were conducted in an alternate dimension where smoke/particulate stuck to the property of the open burn permit holder – instead of spreading for kilometres, as smoke can and typically does, giving everyone in the area an opportunity to breathe it in, whether they want it or not.