A smoky Cowichan sky in the winter. (Barry Boucher photo)

Editorial: Full ban on backyard burning a must

Bad air quality season is here thanks to lack of government backbone

At the time of this writing, smoke is once again sitting in a haze over many areas of the Cowichan Valley, and we cannot blame it on far away wildfires.

Last week, the region had its first air quality advisory of the fall/winter season. Sadly, it likely won’t be the last.

Year after year, Islanders — particularly those in the Alberni, Cowichan and Comox Valleys — experience these advisories, but things don’t seem to be getting much better.

In 2014 the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Island Health and 10 other partners put together Cowichan’s Regional Airshed Protection Strategy. In it, the first thing they did was define the problem.

What they found through an air quality study was that the biggest culprits are local open burning, wood burning appliances and forest fires in other regions, the last confined to summer. Open burning alone accounted for 53 per cent of total emissions, by far the biggest source.

And yet local governments have continued to allow the antiquated practice of backyard burning in the spring and fall. This time of year it is particularly dire, as people rake up their damp leaves and set them ablaze, raising columns of smoke so dense and black it looks like their house is on fire.

The fact of the matter is that there are too many people who do not burn responsibly, and so the only solution is a full ban.

The issue of smoky skies goes beyond mere annoyance from neighbours, and defining neighbours, when it comes smoke, which travels far and wide, is a broad affair. There are very real health concerns. If you are one of the lucky ones whose breathing isn’t bothered by the fine particulates going up in smoke, thank your lucky stars and try to have some empathy for the rest of us.

Island Health has found that admission rates for children with respiratory diseases was 70 per cent higher in Cowichan than provincial rates. Asthma diagnosis for five- to 45-year-olds was 14 per cent higher, and chronic respiratory illness for those over 45 was 50 per cent higher.

People have other options. In Cowichan, it is free to take yard waste to waste transfer stations. And yet, people still burn. When are our local governments going to do the responsible thing and bring in a full ban?

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