A regulation that was adopted to reduce the use of wood burning fireplaces and other equipment in Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley has not only reduced levels of fine particulate air pollution, but has also reduced the number of hospitalizations due to cardiovascular disease, according to an announcement last Monday by the California Air Resources Board (ARB).
In a paper published in the April 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, ARB scientists concluded that the “Check-Before-You-Burn” regulation adopted by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (APCD) has resulted in several benefits to the residents of Bakersfield and the rest of the Valley air basin. The regulation, known as Rule 4901, prohibits the use of most residential wood burning when air quality is predicted to be poor. The restrictions apply during the “burn season” which runs from November 1 through February and are intended to reduce harmful emissions of fine particulate (PM 2.5) and carbon monoxide. Cold weather during this period can cause wood smoke emissions to concentrate close to ground level and build up to unhealthy levels.
The curtailments are triggered when the air quality index, a measure of ambient air quality, is predicted to be 150 or greater.
After fully implementing Rule 4901, the study showed the following results:
- PM 2.5 was reduced by 12 percent basin-wide and by 11 percent and 15 percent in rural and urban regions of the basin, respectively.
- Larger, coarse particulate matter was reduced 8 percent basin-wide and by 7 percent and 11 percent in rural and urban areas of the basin, respectively.
- Hospital admissions for all types of cardiovascular disease in adults 65 and older dropped by 7 percent basin-wide. In addition, hospitalizations for ischemic heart disease, a specific type of cardiovascular disease often known as coronary artery disease, dropped by 16 percent basin-wide. Reductions in rural areas were even higher for both categories of hospital admissions.
Commenting on the study, ARB Chair Mary D. Nichols said, “ARB’s research provides evidence that these ‘check-before-you-burn’ programs, combined with public education, are helping to reduce harmful wintertime air pollution and protect public health.”
Previous studies have detailed the harmful effects of fine particulate matter. Emissions of the pollutant from burning wood, pellets, and fire logs in fireplaces and wood stoves are the largest Valley source of particulate matter in winter months, estimated to be 16 tons per day from smoke, soot, and ash. PM 2.5 can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to premature deaths from heart and lung diseases, as well as reduced lung function growth in children.