Recreational Fires Must Be Eliminated

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The air is smoky from burning wood in North St. Paul, MN, almost every evening. It is a nightmare. What used to be a nice place to live has become a living hell.

WARNING: If you buy a house in North St. Paul, MN, you will regret it! It may be the biggest, most expensive mistake you ever make. You will breathe smoky air almost every day of your life in this town. This is not an exaggeration. The wood smoke in this town gets heavy and gets heavy often. When you want to get out of this dump of a town, how many people do you think are going to want to buy a house in a city where heavy air pollution every night is normal and clean air is rare? This blog gets thousands of visitors every year. The word is out: North St. Paul is a horrible place to live!

Fresh air is very rare around here. If you are considering moving to North St. Paul or buying a home here, I strongly recommend that you do not do it no matter how good of a price you get. The only way you will be happy in this town is if you love breathing smoky air almost every day. North St. Paul, MN, is a horrible place to live because of the smoky air!

Burning wood, grass, leaves, paper, cardboard, and sometimes plastic, construction materials, and chemicals, if it is combustible it gets burned in North St. Paul and you are going to breathe it.

The air was smoky 25 out of 31 evenings in July 2009. We had 37 hours of continuous wood smoke in the air Aug. 29th - 31st. There was wood smoke in the air 19 consecutive evenings from Aug. 21st to Sept. 8th. It rained heavily on Aug. 20th, providing the only relief we got from wood smoke for almost three weeks.

Is this a good way to live? No. It is a horrible way to live. Take it from someone who knows. Breathing smoky, polluted air every day is misery.

Every day in this city several people are having recreational fires. Every evening the air is filled with the stench of burning wood. I am one person sick and tired of breathing smoky air every day. Is it too much to ask to be able to breathe fresh air in your own home?

Who is responsible for this wood smoke nightmare? The four city council members are responsible. Council members Jan Walczak, Bob Bruton, Terry Furlong, and Dave Zick have refused to do anything about this wood smoke problem. They don't care if you have a child with asthma. They don't care if you have to live like a shut-in because the air is so polluted. They don't care if your sinuses burn because the wood smoke is so heavy.

Our four Council members have defended the rights of a small percentage of households to burn wood daily over the rights of all the rest of us to breathe.

You have no right to breathe under Walczak, Bruton, Furlong, and Zick. Burners have the right to burn wood 49 hours a week recreationally. The rest of us have no rights at all.

If you are considering purchasing real estate in the city of North Saint Paul, Minnesota (55109), factor this blog carefully into your decision. Buying a home in this city means that your kids will breathe smoky air while playing in the yard almost every day. Your baby will breathe smoky air in her crib should you leave the windows open around your house. If you leave your windows open you will wake up in the middle of the night choking on smoky air.

Perhaps worst of all, your utility rates will be high because you will have to run the air conditioner instead of leaving the windows open on a cool summer evening. You have no other choice because almost every night the air is too smoky to breathe in this city. Consider this blog your warning.

North St. Paul, Minnesota, is a wonderful community other than the wood smoke. If we could restore fresh air like we used to enjoy, life would be happy again. But that is not going to happen any time soon.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

A desperate plea to the city leaders.

I just sent an email to the mayor and most city council members begging them to do something about the horrible polluted air in this city. As I write this, the air outside has been smoky for the past 7 hours. Nobody should have to live like this in the modern era.

I sent the email to Mayor Michael (Mike) Kuehn and council members Bob Bruton, Dave Zick, and Terry Furlong. I did not bother sending a copy to Jan Walczak. When I contacted her last year about the smoky air problem, all I got was a patronizing email in response reminding me of the hours the city allows recreational burning (7 hours a day, 7 days a week). Last fall, three frequent wood burners had Jan Walczak campaign signs in their yards. Two of them were right next door to each other on the northern corner of Chippewa and Navajo. There must have been a reason those wood burners supported Ms. Walczak. Walczak must support wood burning and air pollution.

I am providing to you readers the text of the email I sent. I debated sending it in a letter. An email should be sufficient. Should the mayor and city council turn their backs on clean air and defend air pollution, I will do whatever I can to ensure people know they opposed fresh air up to and including contacting reporters at the local papers. I do not see how any elected official could support smoky, polluted air to the detriment of all residents in this day in age. Who actually desires to breathe smoky air every day? Nobody.

The message follows.

Dear City Leaders:

I am writing to you on behalf of my family, my neighbors, and the thousands of other residents of this city who are forced to live with the daily nuisance and public health hazard caused by the recreational burning of wood.

In the past few years, wood smoke has become an almost daily event. An evening without wood smoke in North St. Paul is a rare occurrence in the summer months, and getting to be a rare thing during the spring and autumn as well. Ten years ago, this was not the case. Back then, wood burning was uncommon. You could leave your windows open for days at a time without worrying about the choking, nauseating stench of wood smoke. People did not have many bonfires back then. Fresh, breathable air was the norm—as it should be.

This has changed in the past few years. What used to be rare is now very common. Backyard fire pits are more prevalent now than ever. Not only has the burning of wood become more common, the burning of yard waste has become increasingly frequent as well. This almost daily barrage of smoke pollution is making living in this city unbearable. Living in North St. Paul has become a living hell. A very smoky living hell. If the weather is nice enough to have the windows open, you can be almost certain someone is going to be burning wood and smoking up the air.

I have been documenting the wood smoke pollution where I live since June of 2008. As you can see, it is rare for us to enjoy a day without wood smoke, particularly in the summer unless it is very hot. Please take the time to read my blog if you have not already. I update it regularly with the polluted conditions under which we suffer.

If we get one day a week without wood smoke in some months, we are lucky. Often, the wood smoke is so heavy it burns your sinuses, gives you headaches, a sore throat, makes your eyes water, and makes you feel nauseous. Sometimes, the wood smoke is strong enough to taste. I’ve also seen wood smoke so thick it blankets the ground like a cloud. Not just my yard, but the entire block.

Which is more important do you think: the right of all residents, young and old, to breathe fresh, unpolluted air, or the right of a small percentage of the population to burn wood for recreational fun? I and most people would say that fresh air is more important than recreational wood burning.

You cannot enjoy most evenings outside in this city without inhaling wood smoke pollution. You cannot leave your windows open to enjoy the breeze and cool down your home. Leaving your windows open most evenings means that you will be sitting in wood smoke. Your entire home will stink like burning wood. Long after the fires have been extinguished, your home will still smell like wood smoke because it gets into your furnishings, carpeting, bedding, draperies, and even your clothes. You cannot escape wood smoke outside, and you cannot escape it in your own home. You can’t even escape it taking your dog for a walk. It is everywhere, almost every day. We are prisoners in our own homes. This is not a good way to live.

The only options we have are to close the windows and sit in a hot, stuffy house instead of enjoying the nice weather as we should be able to do or run the air conditioner. I often think about how much electricity is wasted on cool summer evenings by residents of this city who are forced to run their air conditioners instead of opening their windows because the air is too smoky to breathe. We have to close our windows almost every evening in the summer and leave them closed all night long. My neighbors do, too. Not only must we bear the expense of running our air conditioners when we should not have to, but this added electricity usage creates even more pollution.

In addition to being a nuisance, wood smoke has been determined to be a public health hazard by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Wood smoke adds fine particles to the air that can travel deep into the lungs. Wood smoke can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory problems, and heart problems. Inhaling wood smoke can trigger headaches, irritate the eyes, lungs, throat and sinuses, reduce lung function, and increase the severity of existing respiratory diseases.

I have experienced burning sinuses, nausea, and headaches from wood smoke in this city several times. If I experience those things, I am certain others do, too.

Are the negative health effects worth allowing the unnecessary recreational burning of wood by a small percentage of the population?

I want you to think about the babies, small children, the elderly, and those with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory diseases who are forced to breathe smoky air because of the city’s ordinance allowing the unnecessary recreational burning of wood.

Would you want your baby breathing smoky air in her crib? Would you want your child with asthma to have to play inside on a summer evening because the wood smoke outside makes it difficult for him to breathe? Do you want senior citizens to spend the final days of their lives in this city breathing smoky, polluted air?

Are you going to turn your backs on the weak and powerless? How can you in good conscience allow this wood smoke pollution to continue knowing that it is a nuisance to thousands and is bad for the health of your citizens? Don’t you care?

Does anyone really need to burn wood recreationally? The answer is no. But everyone must breathe the air. Fresh air is paramount. The recreational burning of wood is completely unnecessary.

This city is not a campground. It is a densely populated suburb with small lots and homes that are close together. Wood smoke does not stay confined to the yard of the burner. It travels with the wind and can permeate an entire neighborhood. I have been able to track the source of wood smoke one-half mile from where I originally smelled it. One recreational fire can smoke up an entire neighborhood. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of people are inconvenienced by the smoke from one recreational fire? What about the health effects of that smoke pollution? Why would the city protect the right of that one burner and turn its back on the hundreds of people who need and deserve fresh air?

If you think I am the only person in this city troubled by wood smoke pollution, you are mistaken. Most people never burn recreationally. Only a small percentage of residents have recreational fires. But everyone has to breathe the air. I have spoken to others around me about this issue. They are just as frustrated as I am, and they feel equally powerless to do anything about it. Only you city leaders have the power to make the changes necessary to end this problem once and for all and make living in this city enjoyable again.

The real question is: which side are you on? The side of my family, my neighbors, and the thousands of other residents of this city who deserve to breathe fresh air, or the side of a small percentage of polluters who cannot find anything better to do than to burn wood for fun?

I am asking you to do what is right for all residents of this city and change the city ordinance to prohibit the recreational burning of wood. Only you can eliminate the unnecessary pollution and health hazard created by wood smoke. Only you can restore the quality of life in this city to what it used to be. Please do the right thing and restore fresh air for all residents of this city. I beg of you to end our suffering in this polluted air.

Recreational burners will find other things to do than create pollution. They don’t need to burn wood, but we must all breathe the air.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.