The Board of Commissioners conducted a first reading Thursday of a proposed ordinance to curb wood burning on winter days when the air is stagnant and pollution settles over the county.
Sponsored by commissioners Sharon Meieran and Jessica Vega Pederson, the rule would be in effect annually from Oct. 1 until March 1. During those months, health officials would conduct forecasting in cooperation with the National Weather Service and neighboring jurisdictions to identify poor air quality days. When conditions suggest an upcoming inversion coupled with other weather conditions, they might issue a yellow alert recommending residents refrain from burning, or a red alert restricting burning.
A red alert would trigger a 24 hour-long no-burn notice to residents across Multnomah County. Health officials would push out the notice through PublicAlerts, Facebook and Twitter, on the county website, and through local media and partnerships with local governments.
Health officials estimate conditions would meet the standards for red alerts, on average, three to five days per year.
The ordinance would exempt low income households and those whose sole source of heat is wood stoves. It would exempt burning during emergency conditions or when other sources of heat are temporarily not functioning. And it would exempt any EPA-certified stove rated to emit no more than 2.5 grams of particle pollution per hour.
Enforcement would be complaint-driven, and any household that fails to be in compliance would receive a written warning with educational materials. Households would receive two warnings before being subject to potential fines.
Commissioners Meieran and Vega Pederson joined health officials for three public meetings to hear from residents. Public health policy analysts revised the draft based on the feedback. Vega Pederson praised those efforts on Thursday.
“It has been a great public process,” she said, speaking to Air Pollution Policy Coordinator Matt Hoffman and Environmental Health Director Jae Douglas. “We did want to have a public process that incorporated what people felt and incorporated those concerns. I appreciate your willingness to make sure that was a priority.”
Akash Singh, environmental justice organizer with Neighbors for Clean Air, thanked the Board for moving on a wood smoke ordinance. But he asked the commissioners not to let up on efforts to ban old dirty diesel trucks from Oregon roads and embolden the Cleaner Air Oregon program with enough staff to enforce stronger air quality rules.
Commissioner Meieran agreed.
“We must advocate loudly for clean diesel and take steps locally,” she said. “But this ordinance is a great part of that larger process.”
The proposed rule change comes more than a year after Multnomah County implemented a voluntary no-burn campaign that seemed to gain little traction. It also represents an effort to remain in compliance with federal laws that cap pollutants including particulate matter. In recent years the air shed that includes Multnomah County has come close to exceeding its limit on particulate matter 2.5.
It’s also a health issue that disproportionately affects children, seniors and people with existing health conditions, air quality expert Hoffman explained Thursday. Short-term exposure to wood smoke can aggravate asthma, bronchitis and lung disease. And long-term exposure has been linked to cancer and higher rates of infant mortality.
Chair Deborah Kafoury called the proposal a “big step, but a good step” and encouraged residents who wish to speak to come to the Jan. 11 board meeting, at which time the board is scheduled to vote on the proposal.The public can offer testimony in person at the upcoming board meeting or send written comments to Air Pollution Policy Coordinator Matt Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.