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Environment & Energy

Online Tool Pinpoints Wood Burning Areas

A Pennsylvania-based clean air activist group has launched a new on-line tool it says will encourage discussion about open wood burning and wood smoke pollution.

The online application launched by The Clean Air Council, called I See Smoke, allows users to pinpoint the area where they are noticing wood smoke pollution on a map. This information is given to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), which can use the data to resolve the issue.

The application should not be used to harass pesky neighbors, but instead is intended to locate areas that are problematic, Clean Air Council executive director Joseph Minott said.

“The idea is not to be confrontational at all, but to let the [ACHD] officials that have the power and the obligation to protect public health to be aware that this is a much more widespread problem than I think they suspect it is,” Minott said.

Open wood burning releases particles that can become lodged in the lungs and make their way into the bloodstream, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The ACHD called wood burning a “health hazard” Thursday, urging county residents to minimize wood smoke emissions.

The department has been wrestling with recreational burning and wood fired boiler laws. Several hearings have been held and for two years the county has been offering grants to home owners who turn in their wood burning stoves and furnaces.

“The sources [of wood smoke] are often unregulated, and can cause pretty serious problems to neighbors who are exposed to it,” Minott said. “The idea is to bring the attention of this problem to the regulators and let them know that something needs to be done about it.”

I See Smoke raises awareness of pollution issues by giving users the opportunity to say, “I am here and this is what I see,” according to Minott.

“The purpose is really educational,” Minott said. “We know this is a public health threat and we’re trying to elevate the debate so that the regulators get a sense of, ‘Okay, here’s the problem and here are solutions to that problem,’ and that debate is not happening right now.”

The tool can be accessed at www.iseesmokepa.org