Andru McCrackenBy Andru McCracken

Valemount Village Council has asked staff to draft a clean air bylaw at the request of the Clean Air Task Force. It’s a good step, and just one in a suite of actions that could help reduce the number of days of the year that the air quality in Valemount represents an imminent health risk to the community. Although the new bylaw is unlikely to have an impact on your life or in your home, I expect there will be a backlash. It’s inevitable.

Council is taking action on behalf of a group of people that may not include you: people with breathing issues, those suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), infants and youth.

The bylaw will likely target outdoor wood boilers, using outdated stoves as a home heating appliance and burning garbage.

Why do we need regulation?

As the editor of the local newspaper, it’s hard for me not to point out that this is a problem we don’t need to be suffering from. For one, how you burn matters most during an inversion when the air is still. You know, when you glance outside and can see the smoke wafting down the side of your house and not up and away? All it takes is some extra care to burn hot and clean, a few minutes of your time.

Knowing that how you operate your wood stove impacts the sick, the very young and the elderly, why wouldn’t you just take action to ensure that it doesn’t on still winter nights? A lot can be done on an individual level.

But first we need to accept the fact that wood smoke is dangerous and has an impact on the weakest among us.

Part of council’s comprehensive plan is to help people replace awful, noncompliant wood stoves with new ones. It’s noble but if, as a community, we decided to accept wood smoke as an imminent health issue we’d go about it differently. We’d cover our wood supply with a tarp and build a wood shed next year. We’d spend 10 minutes instead of three minutes lighting our fire in the evening. Instead of closing down the damper on that still chortling mess of a fire, we’d wait 10 minutes until the fire was raging and then close it down. We’d spend a minute going outside to look at the chimney and see heat and water vapour rising in place of a white plume.

I appreciate council’s action and wholeheartedly support them on this because they are trying to protect the most vulnerable from an impact many folks don’t realize they are having… but what a painful uphill battle.

Maybe there are some people who just can’t light a good fire… is a new stove going to fix it? It is still possible to make a new stove smoke and in the same respect, it doesn’t take a genius to get an old wood stove to burn clean.

Many people have an affection for wood stoves: the heat they emanate, the lifestyle they represent, the hard work they encourage, it’s carbon neutral, it’s noble… it’s just too bad that more people don’t take pride in how they burn.