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Proposal to increase no-burn days in Central California

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POSTED November 24, 2012 1:32 a.m.

FRESNO (AP) — Central California air officials are proposing to further curtail residential wood burning in an effort to reduce airborne particulate pollution in one of the nation’s most polluted regions, according to a plan released this week.

The proposal by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District would increase the number of no-burn days for fireplaces, other wood burning heaters and outdoor devices.

If adopted, the new rules would double the no-burn days in many counties. In San Joaquin county, it would mean going from 18 average no-burn days each winter to 47 no-burn days, in Stanislaus from 36 to 74, in Fresno from 53 to 85, and in Merced from 26 to 63 average no-burn days.

The restrictions do not apply to homes where wood burning is the only source of heat.

Mandatory no-burn restrictions based on air-quality forecasts were first introduced in the Valley in 2003. Previously, the Valley had voluntary bans on burning wood.

They are intended to reduce particulate pollution, which can exacerbate lung conditions and increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke. A health assessment accompanying the proposal says it would prevent 671 premature deaths by 2019, prevent hundreds of hospital visits and reduce respiratory symptoms in thousands of people.

The valley records some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country and has a rate of asthma three times the national average, according to the American Lung Association. The valley has for years failed to meet the federal standard for small particle pollution.

Some of the causes are geography: pollution from San Francisco and Sacramento is sucked into the valley’s bowl, where it stagnates. Others are manmade: the state’s two main highways, the routes for nearly all long-distance tractor trailer rigs, cut through valley. The region’s multiple farms and dairies contribute pesticides, manure and other pollutants.

Burning wood accounts for about a quarter of the problem.

Critics say the no-burn rule invade their rights to have a fireplace at home. They also say low-income residents may not be able to afford an alternative to wood burning, which is a less expensive source of heating.

Gas stoves can cost several thousand dollars, not including installation, and converting traditional brick fireplaces to natural gas can cost thousands of dollars.

The air district, which covers the area from Lodi to Bakersfield, will present the proposal to the public on December 20.

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