PORTLAND, Ore. — With spring in full swing, Multnomah County health officials are warning the public of the potential health risks from outdoor wood burning, including things like having a campfire in the backyard.
Brendon Haggerty with the Multnomah County Health Department supervises a program that addresses regional air quality issues.
As part of a media event on Sunday, he demonstrated the impacts of wood-fueled by lighting a small fire in a fire pit in the backyard of his Portland home, then measuring the air quality.
The point of the demonstration was to inform people that even though wood-fueled fires may seem relatively harmless, they can have have a negative impact on your health and the health of your neighbors.
"It's true that one backyard fire can affect the immediate vicinity, and we have about 1 in 10 adults in Multnomah County report asthma, which means that chances are there's someone vulnerable around you,” said Haggerty.
It's a good lesson for people who live in the Pacific Northwest, where wood burning has historically been a common way to heat homes due to the abundance of timber.
So, air quality experts like Tori Heroux really want to get the health safety message out.
“Especially in urban areas where we are all living close together, there is a significant health impact from burning wood, especially in an uncontrolled way, wich is exactly what a backyard fire is,” said Heroux, an air quality planner with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
This year, Multnomah County adopted a new year-round smoke ordinance to reduce residential wood smoke. Under the ordinance, the county has removed the term "green day" from burn advisories to encourage people to avoid burning year-round. It also eliminates an exemption for EPA-certified wood stoves.
The popular months for outdoor burning also coincide with wildfire season, which can really make for dangerous air quality. Experts said that is all the more reason to find a different way to enjoy your backyard, fire free.
“If we can keep our air cleaner now, we can keep our families and neighbors healthier now, which means they'll be better ready to cope with wildfire smoke if and when it comes," said Haggerty.
He added that wood fires in Multnomah County are currently one of the major causes of pollution, right being cars and trucks.