What to do about South Eugene’s wood smoke problem


by Jo Niehaus, LRAPA Public Affairs

Every fall, the cooler temperatures and changing leaves bring relief to the Pacific Northwest. However, the coziness and warmth from wood burning isn’t a welcome sight nor smell for all.

We tend to think that wood burning is cost effective, traditional, natural, and creates a certain ambiance that is difficult to capture with other heat sources. What we don’t realize is that wood smoke contains many harmful pollutants and chemicals that can negatively impact the health of our families and neighbors.

In Lane County, pollution from residential wood burning makes up the majority of wintertime air pollution and can push the local air quality index into unhealthy categories.

Wood smoke contains toxic and carcinogenic substances (many of which are also found in cigarettes) and particles that will irritate your heart and lungs.

Smoke inhalation is dangerous and exposure to wood smoke can increase the risk of heart attacks, cancers, and stroke. It can cause new or aggravate existing respiratory issues like asthma. Children, seniors, and pregnant women are most vulnerable to wood smoke’s negative health impacts.

Eugene’s south neighborhoods experience some of the worst winter pollution in the metro area. The hills create a bowl-like effect that increases smoke accumulation, especially when we experience air stagnation and there are extended periods without any wind ventilation. The smoke from our chimneys settle at ground-level and enter our homes and bodies.

This winter, pay attention to Lane Regional Air Protection Agency’s Home Wood Heating daily advisory. There are a few days a year when wood burning is banned due to unhealthy levels of pollution. Some people may want to apply for an exemption from the ban, and can do so by calling our office 541-736-1056.

You can also help reduce the amount of pollution by burning as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Making sure to use dry, seasoned wood and keeping your dampers open will significantly reduce your smoke. This will ensure your fires burn hotter, save you money by not wasting fuel, and limit your pollution outputs.

Please make sure that the opacity levels of the smoke from your chimney or stack remains transparent and easy to see through. The smoke should be barely visible at the outlet of your chimney or stack when you are using dry wood and burning hot and clean. The Eugene and Springfield ordinances allow for up to 40% opacity, meaning it should be fairly easy to see through the smoke plume.

Please make sure that the opacity levels of the smoke from your chimney or stack remains transparent and easy to see through. The smoke should be barely visible at the outlet of your chimney or stack when you are using dry wood and burning hot and clean. The Eugene and Springfield ordinances allow for up to 40% opacity, meaning it should be fairly easy to see through the smoke plume.

Remember to never burn wet wood or garbage. If when all possible, try heating by other means. Ductless heat pumps, natural gas stoves, and pellet stoves are all great alternatives to traditional wood stoves or fireplaces. They produce less pollution and can be more cost effective than burning inefficiently.

Help your neighborhood air quality improve this winter by adjusting your heating practices. Get alerted on burn ban days and avoid fines by texting “LRAPAHWH” to 313131 and make sure you check www.lrapa.org every time before you burn.