‘Green’ days are gone in Multnomah County’s new effort to cut wood smoke pollution

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
Feb. 23, 2022 1 p.m.
Smoke coming from fireplaces and wood stoves has been linked to a host of health effects including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and asthma attacks. Wood stoves more than 20 years old are no longer legal to sell or purchase in Washington.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved amending its wood smoke ordinance while acknowledging the disproportionate harm that air pollution has on low-income residents and communities of color.

Katie Campbell

Last week, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve tougher rules around the burning of wood, a major source of air pollution in the county. Wood smoke contains tiny particles that can enter into the bloodstream and damage the lungs and contribute to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

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Under the new rules, burning wood in stoves, fireplaces or fire pits on days with poor air quality will be banned year-round. The rules also get rid of so-called “green” days, when the county set no limits on wood burning.

“We want to send the message clear that there’s no good day to burn,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. Pederson co-sponsored the new rule changes with Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.

“[The] EPA’s National Air Toxics assessment found that Multnomah County has the highest cancer risk from air toxics in the state,” Jessica Guernsey, the county’s public health director, told OPB.

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In adopting the amendment, the county commissioners also acknowledged that air pollution disproportionately impacts low-income residents and communities of color.

“Where we see the worst impacts of wood smoke are really in low-income communities…Black Indigenous and People of Color communities…and their advocacy has really helped drive this forward,” Vega Pederson said.

Since the passage of the original wood smoke ordinance in 2018, there have been four days in the county when wood burning has been banned and 110 days of voluntary burn restrictions. Residents can sign up to receive wood burning restriction alerts issued by the county.

Low-income residents or commercial and residential buildings which rely on wood burning as the sole source of heat are exempted from the restrictions.

Vega Pederson said the county expects to receive half a million dollars in state funds to help low-income residents replace their wood-burning stoves.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson and Multnomah County Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey joined Dave Miller on Think Out Loud recently. You can listen to the whole interview by pressing the play button below:


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