"Red Light, Green Light" Days Begin

"Red Light, Green Light" Days Begin

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Jed Boal ReportingAs natural gas prices surge, more people may plan to burn wood to heat their homes this winter. But the Utah Division of Air Quality wants all of us to pay attention to when we can and cannot burn.

As temperatures drop, more people on the Wasatch Front will light up wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Many homeowners hope to soften the blow of the natural gas bill by burning more wood this winter. Wood stoves are a hot selling item.

Joel Bell, Rocky Mountain Stove and Fireplace: "This year it's been more of a wood and pellet boom. Customers are getting scared from their gas prices and looking at buying an alternate source of heating."

Pellet stoves burn compressed sawdust. They're more efficient, more convenient, and sold out until February.

Joel Bell, Rocky Mountain Stove and Fireplace: "They weren't expecting a boom like this, For example, our manufacturer has quadrupled production to compensate for the boom."

For most of us, switching our heating system is impractical and the division of air quality needs all of us to help manage air pollution and reduce the health risks that are produced by burning wood. We all hate the dreaded inversions that can shroud us in pollution for weeks on end in the winter.

Rick Sprott, Dir., Division of Air Quality: "What our hope is, one, we won't have too many red burn days. And we hope people invest in cleaner stoves to prevent the problem from happening."

The Red Light-Green Light Choose Clean Air program resumes today. Green means wood burning is allowed. Yellow means voluntary no burning. Red means no burning is allowed. Red and yellow days are issued as pollution levels begin to approach unhealthy levels, as established by federal health-based standards.

Rick Sprott: "With the wrong kind of meteorology, we still have some bad pollution days. We've got to stay after it and manage the driving and the wood burning. All the pieces have to fit together."

Pollution levels could rise this winter with more wood-burning and the state doesn't want to lose the gains we've made in past decades. Pellet sales are up, but, so far, wood sales have not surged. Fines for burning on "red" days range from $25 to $299.

Air quality officials recommend replacing an old wood or coal burning stove or fireplace with a newer, Environmental Protection Agency-certified model that greatly reduces airborne pollutants. Stoves and fireplaces manufactured after July 1, 1990, meet the EPA's stringent emissions standards, and they can cut wood smoke emissions by up to 85 percent. Switching to a clean-burning natural-gas fireplace inserts also reduces pollution.

Other emissions-reducing tips include:

  • Use only well-seasoned firewood, which produces less smoke.
  • Use logs manufactured from sawdust and wax, which also produce less smoke.
  • Using a fire-starter can cut particulate emissions by more than 69 percent.
  • Build hotter fires with smaller pieces of wood, which produce less smoke.

Everyone can contribute to better winter air quality:

  • Drive your vehicle as little as possible during red and yellow days. Reduce the number of trips in your car and walk to errands when possible.
  • Keep your vehicle tuned up and avoid excessive idling.
  • Car-pooling, using mass transit, and telecommuting are all ways to help reduce vehicle pollutants.
  • Avoid using snow-blowers and other gasoline powered equipment on red and yellow days.

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