New open burning rules are pending before the Allegheny County Board of Health, and while most residents who have spoken out are in favor of the tighter controls, some feel the rules fall far short of being able to adequately protect public health.
“This is not about the tyranny of government overreach and the revolution has come to Bellevue,” said Bellevue resident and anti-burning activist Carol Wivell. “This is about people going before your elected officials and begging for help.”
Among other things, the new rules passed last week by the county’s Air Advisory Committee would restrict fires to containers no larger than three foot square and two foot high, prohibit them from within 15 feet of a property line and limit fires to clean dry wood, propane or natural gas.
“That’s a joke,” Wivell said. “Even so-called clean dry firewood emits a lot of toxic chemical into the air not to mention the particulate matter that gets deep down into your lungs. It contributes to strokes and heart attacks.”
Wivell has purchased a home in McKeesport in the hopes of escaping the wood smoke she finds in Bellevue, but on a recent visit to her new home she says she smelled wood smoke and is now very worried. She would like to see the county enact an outright ban on recreational fires in all urban areas.
Allegheny County Health Department Deputy Director for environmental health Jim Thompson says that is basically what the regulation will mean.
“Where you have very narrow lots such as in the city of Pittsburgh effectively there is no hope in burning allowed because you would not have a 15 foot setback,” Thompson said.
Bellevue has more than 8,000 residents in 1.1 square miles.
The county has a hotline (412-687-2243) to file complaints. The hotline is staffed 24-hours a day, but officers are not always sent out immediately. Thompson says residents can also call local police.
Gayle Downey of Bellevue says she has called police and the county’s hotline and has not seen anything happen.
“I could smell that smoke for days,” Downey, who has CPOD, said of a recent backyard fire in her neighborhood. “I have to keep my windows closed.”
Downey attended two meetings held by the county while the new regulations were being drafted and she has also written a letter listing her concerns.
The new regulations are expected to come up for a final vote at the Sept. 3 health department board meeting. If passed they must still be approved by the County Council. The rules do not impact indoor fireplaces and wood burning stoves, furnaces and boilers.
Both Downy and Wivell plan to inform residents about the new rules and the hotline in the hopes that the new rules will be enforced.
“People don’t know they can call,” Downey said.
“You don’t know how many elderly people are trapped inside their houses because they are afraid to speak up,” Wivell said.