Dreamstime photo of backyard burning.

Province’s new burning rules part of the Comox Valley clean air puzzle

The provincial government is implementing new open burning rules Sept. 15 before the fall burning season gets underway.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy says the rules will oversee burning of logging slash and other vegetative debris. They will replace an outdated, ‘one-size-fits-all regulation’ for burning throughout B.C. There will be more stringent rules in areas near communities, including shorter burn periods and a requirement to dry out debris, as well as larger setbacks from neighbours, schools and hospitals.

“That’s pretty big,” said Earle Plain, an air quality meteorologist with the ministry. “Now it’s (setback) 500 metres, as opposed to 100 metres. It restricts the burning in those higher density areas…but it doesn’t eliminate open burning.”

The ministry is providing incentives for the use of newer and cleaner technology.

Open burning is the largest source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in B.C., contributing as much PM2.5 as transportation, wood heating and the wood-processing industry combined.

“Poor air quality can take a terrible toll on people living with respiratory and underlying health issues,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a news release. “Initiatives like this to improve air quality are important, especially to seniors and children who are often the most at risk.”

While the regulations impose more restrictions on burning near populated areas, Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley says burning of large piles of slash or land clearing debris will still be allowed.

“Open burning like this creates a lot of local, harmful pollution,” group member Jennell Ellis said. “This is not how you effectively protect people’s health and their right to breathe clean air.”

Plain notes a number of studies have been conducted in the Comox Valley in the last five years to identify the main problems.

“It’s all around biomass smoke in the winter time,” Plain said. “We’ve identified the main sources being residential woodstoves and open burning. So this is one part of the equation, it’s not the solution. It is not the thing that’s going to put us back into compliance. It is something that’s going to improve things, but it’s not the silver bullet.

“It’s a multi-faceted problem,” he added. “There are so many diffuse sources of fine particulate, and it comes from anything you burn. There’s incremental things that everybody can do to drive those numbers down, but it takes time. This is the piece that we as the Province have control over. We have the jurisdiction over large-scale, open during. It does not apply to residential backyard burning.”

New rules mean stiffer penalties. Certain contraventions could result in a fine up to $200,000.

Shorter burn durations will make it more difficult to burn things like stumps, which Plain said can smoulder for several days. He notes there are now options for a one-day or 36-hour burn.

“It’s going to be pretty hard for someone that has stumps in their pile to meet that burn duration window,” Plain said. “They’re all pieces of the puzzle.”

The ministry is working with the CVRD and local governments to come up with a strategy moving forward, he added.

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