Curling up in front of a warm, crackling fireplace has long been a favorite memory of home for many. Historically, burning wood has been a huge driver of destructive deforestation, and unfortunately that is still the case in much of the developing world. In America, strong forest management has made this less of an issue but that doesn't mean the hearth is harmless.
Wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and particulates, which are known to irritate the eyes and respiratory systems. The smoke can lead to bronchitis, cause problems for asthmatics and aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases. Wood smoke's contribution to air pollution is partly responsible for thousands of premature deaths a year.
In their cleverly titled article "Hearth Attack," the San Francisco Chronicle points out that 30 percent of lung-damaging particulates in the Bay Area are blamed on fireplaces. As a result, the heavily populated region's regulators are taking aim at chimneys, trying to bring air quality down to healthier levels.
The Bay Area's nine-county smog board is now moving toward a June decision that's likely to limit wood-burning fireplaces to specific days, and prohibit construction of open-front hearths in new homes and remodels, reports the Chronicle. Most likely, locals will not be able to spark up on windless winter nights, when smog can accumulate.
Southern California and the Central Valley have already put restrictions on home chimneys in place.
At a time when the world's attention is focused on China's poor air quality, in the run-up to the Olympics, it gives pause to note that we still struggle with this issue at home. Breathing is one of the most fundamental, life-sustaining things we do, obviously, and it's easy to forget how scary it is to have our airways impeded. But protecting the health of the most vulnerable -- children, asthmatics, the elderly and so on -- is noble indeed. Having such restrictions on personal freedom as banning home hearths is not something that should be taken lightly, but it is clear that we are going to have to make some changes to the way we live, as population keeps soaring and resources grow stretched.
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