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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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Email from a Coon Rapids resident

I got this email from a resident of Coon Rapids who has a problem with wood smoke in her neighborhood. As is my policy, I do not reveal personally identifiable information about people who email me unless they are public officials. The Coon Rapids resident writes:

Coon Rapids allows fires from 9 am to midnight. This summer has been the worst ever, by far, for stinky smoke from fires. Any time of the day, often all night, and most definitely every weekend. I believe lots of brush is being burned in fire pits. The only way the rules are enforced is by neighbors tattling on neighbors, and then hoping the fire department will follow up. This is an exceedingly poor way to safeguard public health.

Unless the Pollution Control Agency gets involved, I do not believe anything will change. Local politicians on city councils do not seem to care about the big picture when it comes to public health. This is very disturbing on very many levels. I can go to a restaurant and eat in a smoke-free environment, but there are evenings that I can't even taste my meal in my own house because of horrible smoke from neighborhood fires. I am totally disgusted by this situation. We live in the equivalent of a third-world country when it comes to air pollution from air smoke.

Earlier this summer I wrote to the Fixit columnist at the Star Tribune and asked if there were any municipalities in the Twin Cities area that do not allow recreational fires. I never got a response.

Your blog is getting noticed, and maybe eventually someone in the state with the power to stop recreational fires will get involved. Thank you for taking the time to document your smoke observations in your community.

Dear Coon Rapids resident:

I know exactly what you are going through. The wood smoke problem in North St. Paul keeps getting worse each year. Ten years ago, nobody burned wood recreationally. We could leave our windows open days or weeks at a time and never had to worry about wood smoke. Around 2003 or so things changed. Every once in a while there would be wood smoke in the evenings. Then it increased in frequency to the point where there is wood smoke in the air every evening with very few exceptions. People burned yard waste ten years ago. They burn it much more frequently now. Burning does nothing but encourage more burning. The problem will continue to get worse if nothing is done.

You are right about being able to enjoy a meal in a restaurant in a smoke-free environment but not being able to enjoy one in your own home. It makes little sense to me how any city leader can support the unnecessary recreational burning of wood and the air pollution that goes with it when such a small percentage of households burn, at least in my community. I estimate that 15% of the households within a quarter-mile of us burn wood. With about 190 houses in that radius, it is almost certain that one of them is going to burn any night, which is why the air is always smoky.

The people who burn wood frequently have issues. I do not understand the infatuation with burning wood. Most of the burners I have seen are men in their 40s and 50s. It is like they never matured, staying stuck in their boy scout days. Some of them burn almost every day and there is little we can do about it because our city council refuses to address it. One frequent burner nearby burns then leaves his fire smoldering all night long with his house windows closed. It is a nightmare. We can smell his smoke blocks away. The entire neighborhood reeks of his smoke and he sleeps in his house with his windows all closed up.

Do not expect any help at all from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. I made a complaint with them and it took them three weeks to tell me there was nothing they could do, that it was a nuisance issue that the city had to handle. One of our city council members, who lives not far from us, has a number of smoky burners around her. I've been by her house on a few smoky nights this summer and noticed the windows I could see from the street were all closed. Why would she close her windows on a cool summer evening unless the air is too smoky for her? If the air is too smoky for her, why doesn't she understand that we don't like the smoke either and do something about it? She has the power to do something about this wood smoke problem, we don't.

This blog was started to document the nightmare we endure living in North St. Paul, MN. It is one thing to say the air is smoky all the time. It is another to provide documentation that people can quantitatively use. All of our city council members know about this blog. I doubt they visit at all. I don't have many kind words for anyone who makes us breathe smoky air every day. I also want this blog to serve as a warning to anyone considering buying a home in this polluted hell of a city. North St. Paul is a very nice place to live except for the nightly wood smoke. The polluted air completely ruins the quality of life here.

Thank you for emailing me. I always appreciate emails in support. I've gotten emails from others across the metro area and people from around the country. I wish you the best in your struggle against wood smoke pollution. You seem to be aware that it is going to be an uphill battle against the uncaring people who govern our towns.

I'm considering offering free firewood to those living around our city council members next year. It won't be cheap, but if we have to breathe smoky air every day, they should, too.