Maricopa County has seen a rise in the number of people burning wood on No Burn Days in the past two years and if the trend continues it could result in higher fines and tougher restrictions in years to come.
The chemical Maricopa County Air Quality is concerned about is PM 2.5, which is caused by wood burning.
“It’s basically smoke and soot and the main cause is wood burning,” said Bob Huhn, public information officer for Maricopa County Air Quality. “It’s more prevalent during the winter, especially during the holidays, and that is because of weather conditions. During the winter we have colder weather and the air is more stagnant. That traps pollution closer to the ground.”
The PM 2.5 is tracked by eight monitors in Maricopa County to ensure the county’s air quality is within federal guidelines. The Environmental Protection Agency looks at a three-year average of those readings to determine if Maricopa County is staying within federal regulations. The past two years have been very close, Huhn said, so this year they’re making an extra effort to remind people of the importance.
“If we can keep it lower than it has been in the past we’ll avoid going into non-attainment,” Huhn said. “If we go into non-attainment that means stricter regulations and possibility of higher fines. Eventually down the line after a couple years of that we could lose federal funds, which means jobs.”
Unfortunately, the county usually sees a dramatic spike in PM 2.5 levels on the holidays. For example, last year on New Years Day seven out of the county’s eight PM 2.5 monitors registered levels above federal regulations. Three monitors reported levels triple of federal standards.
“A lot of folks say, ‘One chimney and one fireplace isn’t going to make a difference’ but it does because a lot of other people are thinking that, too,” Huhn said. “I know I enjoy fireplaces with my family and we understand that, but we ask people on No Burn Days to not burn wood. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s really to keep residents healthy.”
Residents can find out if it’s a No Burn Day by calling (602) 506-6400 or visit cleanairmakemore.com. The county also has a mobile app that allows people to see if it’s a No Burn Day, gives the forecast, and allows people to report violators.
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