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Mr. And Mrs. Grinch

Mr. and Mrs. Grinch

They have good intentions and it’s only the First Annual, so there’s still some bugs to work out, but the holiday festivities in the Arlington Plaza tonight had us feeling like we were getting a lump of coal in our stockings and a bit early at that.

Because we’re no fans of wood burning fire pits – they’re toxic, but most people have no idea.

We live really close by and we chose this site because the likelihood of having a wood burning neighbor is low, at least it was until tonight.

What's a No Burn Day?

Folks in L.A. know, same for people living in the Bay Area in places like Marin County – they know, too.

It gets to be November and people want to have a wood fire. I did, too until I knew.

Today is a No Burn Day in Los Angeles; you can’t have a fire either indoors or out. The rule takes affect during the winter months when inversions can contribute to especially sooty skies.

So it’s a bit ironic that here in eco-aware Santa Barbara no one seems to know:

The particulate matter in woodsmoke is a Group 1 carcinogen.World Health Organization

Yeah, I hear you, wood is natural, but so is asbestos and uranium. The small particles in woodsmoke, the PM2.5, we’re only now learning just how detrimental particulate matter is to public health. Woodsmoke is a self-inflicted wound when it comes to our health and our kids’ health.

Equivalent to 800 cigarettes?

I lived in Newport Beach, at the beach, within 500 feet of 27 fire rings. People would come and burn every night. The fire pits would produce a lot of smoke, especially on weekend nights. We ignored the issue for about 13 years, but then once we looked into it we were horrified – we were being poisoned virtually every night!

We complained to the Mayor and not long thereafter we won a unanimous City Council decision to remove all 60 fire pits across the city. No one wanted toxic bonfires on the beach, or so it seemed at first – later there would be a huge backlash and political sentiment reversed our modest initial victory. People really love their fires.

The L.A.-based Air Quality Management District (AQMD) listened to our pleas. They installed an expensive air monitor right on top of the Lifeguard HQ. They learned just how bad the smoke was from the fire pits. They’re engineers and we’re not, so they told us in a way we could easily understand:

The smoke from each beach bonfire is equivalent to the secondhand smoke from 800 cigarettes.AQMD

That’s a big number, so it’s a little hard to grasp. I’ve thought of assembling 800 people around a fire pit, so as to take a photo to graphically show what we’re talking about. But I couldn’t imagine gathering 800 people for the sole reason to smoke a cigarette on the beach, not to mention, smoking on the beach is against the law, but it would be unethical and immoral to expose a photographer to such a spectacle.

Would you bring your kid to the beach if you knew there would be 800 people smoking? Let alone 800 people times 27 fire pits? I’d worry that Social Services would take my kid away from me if I were to endanger them so, but if it’s a bonfire all bets are off.

Mr. and Mrs. Grinch

My wife wanted to go over and take a photo; she thought she could smell smoke.

I went, too.

We both spoke to people about the hazards. People don’t know, but they listen. I try to be funny and lighthearted because I know if they listen they’ll be disappointed to learn. And the message has a real ring of truth to it, uncomfortable as it may be to learn.

I have a fireplace and I use it everyday.One astonished bystander lamented

It felt like we were Mr. and Mrs. Grinch.

People listen because they want to know – woodsmoke is particularly harmful to children


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