Lincoln County Public Health Nurse: Outdoor burning is good for your lawn, but bad for your lungs

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As residential burn season approaches it is important to know that all burning can have serious health consequences to you and those around you.

Residential burning within the Libby Air Quality Control District is allowed from April 1 to May 1, according to the Lincoln County Environmental Health Department. Anyone planning on burning, however, does require a permit to burn legally.

Although legal burning can be great to clear deadfall, brush, and wood waste build up from the winter months, the health impacts from the smoke and particulates of burning can be very severe.

The American Lung Association (ALA) warns of the health concern from residential wood burning because of the high concentration of inhaled smoke exposure, particularly in sensitive groups such as newborns, infants, children and lung-compromised individuals.

Wood smoke from woodstoves and residential burning is a major contributor to south Lincoln County’s air quality conditions, particularly during fall and winter when wood burning is at its peak.

Smoke is composed of many small carbon particles. These pieces of organic matter from smoke, along with dust and other particles, become suspended in the air and are referred to as particulate matter. Because of their small size, these particles can become deeply embedded in the lungs, damaging small blood vessels, airways and the heart.

According to the ALA, burning wood produces emissions that are harmful to human health.

Wood smoke also produces fine particle pollution by releasing carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and chemicals such as formaldehyde that contribute significantly to climate change pollution.

ALA states that short-term wood smoke exposure can affect people with lung disease, causing coughing, wheezing, asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may increase susceptibility to respiratory infection.

Long-term exposures can lead to reduced lung function, heart attacks, lung cancer and even premature death.

The Lincoln County Health Department strongly recommends these tips when burning to reduce your output of toxic pollution:

•If you must burn to heat, use clean wood that has been dried for at least six months.

•Build small, hot fires.

•Don’t allow piles or fires to smolder.

•Never burn garbage.

•Do not burn when air quality is poor.

•Do not burn if someone in your home or living near you has asthma, COPD or any other lung or heart condition.

If you are not planning on burning but you are still affected by the outdoor burning around you, stay indoors when smoke levels are high, use a HEPA air filter in your home, and report any unclean, heavily smoking burn pile, or unpermitted burn activity to the health department at 406-283-2442.

Please be responsible and considerate when burning this season for the young, the old and the sick around you who may be greatly impacted from the smoke you create. If you decide not to burn but have wood and yard clean up to dispose of, the Lincoln County Landfill accepts all yard debris from your cleanup projects, free of charge.

Free permits for burning are available at the Lincoln County Health Department at the county annex building, 418 Mineral Ave in Libby, or by calling 406-283-2442.

Riley Black is public health nurse for Lincoln County.

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