Wood burning ban enforced, but violators rarely punished

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Tuesday was another hazy day along the Wasatch Front meaning wood fires were banned…but is anybody really paying attention to your fireplace or wood stove?

Violations can result in a citation and a fine but ABC4 News learned that rarely happens.

The particulates from wood smoke and soot are small, less than 2.5 microns and more easily absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream, making them more dangerous. They can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory infections or even heart attacks.

Donna Kemp Spangler, Communications Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said the ban is in effect on red of yellow air quality days.

“Whenever we’re in even moderately unhealthy conditions it’s a mandatory no-burn restriction,” Spangler said. “So most of the wintertime they’re enforcing no burning.”

The Utah Division of Air Quality relies on county health departments to investigate burn ban violation tips.

“The enforcement officers will go out and will look to see if there’s been evidence of burning,” Spangler said. “They have infrared cameras to see if there’s evidence of smoke from the chimneys or from wood-burning stoves and will cite the offending person.”

ABC4 News asked how many citations have been issued this winter.

“I think we issued like, one and I’m not sure when that was,” Spangler said. “It might have been Utah County so I think it was the Utah County Health Department.”

Dr. Brian Moench, founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, reacted to that.

“Well we need more of that,” Dr. Moench said. “People need to understand how toxic wood smoke is and how intensely concentrated it can be in a neighborhood with just one person burning wood…A study from California suggests that if you’re living downwind of a wood burner you can have a hundred times more pollution exposure than someone who’s a mile away.”

One reason so few citations have been issued is that enforcement officers have to catch offenders in the act and even then, usually just give a warning.

The Salt Lake County Health Department says they have issued seven warning letters so far this winter but no citations.

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