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Heat on burn bans to intensify.

Byline: Christian Hill The Register-Guard

Lane Regional Air Protection Agency officials say they will step up enforcement on days the agency bans wood burning because they are growing increasingly concerned about the lack of compliance with the bans by people who use wood stoves.

The agency recorded 125 complaints, either filed by residents who said neighbors were violating the burn ban, or from LRAPA's own staff for violations they saw, agency spokeswoman Jo Niehaus said Friday.

The ban was in effect from 4 p.m. Nov. 27 through 4 p.m. Dec. 2 in the Eugene-Springfield metro area. It was the longest burn ban in recent years and the first for this burning season.

The complaints were the most the agency has ever received during a ban, Niehaus said. She estimated the air quality agency typically gets 30 to 50 complaints for wood burning bans that last several days.

The increase wasn't a coincidence. LRAPA had far more personnel in the field during the latest ban to report and investigate violations, she said. A half-dozen or so employees were on hand, in contrast to the one employee typically who would report and investigate violations in the field in the past.

Niehaus said she didn't know how many of the complaints were reported by LRAPA employees and how many were called in by residents.

The air quality agency has hired more field investigators and designated more employees to help with the enforcement work in the past year. The agency said it is concerned that there's an increasing amount of fine particulate matter from wood smoke causing air pollution over the past two years in Eugene-Springfield that is threatening to violate federal clean-air standards.

Elevated levels of fine particulate matter, or soot, can harm the health of young children, senior citizens and people with compromised respiratory systems. Hazardous levels constitute a public health emergency.

"We've noticed it was becoming a trend, and we're trying to stop it from increasing," Niehaus said.

Niehaus said the recent wood burning ban occurred during a holiday weekend, and LRAPA plans to have more enforcement officers out in the field during future burn bans.

"It's an all-hands-on-deck scenario," she said.

The agency typically calls burn bans when very cold, dry weather has caused an air stagnation over Eugene-Springfield. During the still, cold weather, smoke from woodstoves stays put in the valley. The extreme cold usually prompts more people to fire up their stoves.

Niehaus said the agency is trying to avoid the possibility that federal regulators declare Eugene- Springfield a "nonattainment area" on federal clean air standards.

The designation would require LRAPA to adopt a plan detailing how the area would get back in compliance with the standards.

Those steps might require residents to burn cleaner when wood burning is allowed and to tighten the qualifications for low-income residents to receive an exemption so they can burn wood on days when burning is generally banned.

Of the 125 complaints, agency employees spoke with residents at 46 homes and other dwellings found to be violating the burn ban. Of those, 21 were not revisited by LRAPA; 23 were revisited and found to be in compliance; and two were found to still be in violation and will be assessed $50 fines, Niehaus said.

The agency either found the remaining 79 complaints unfounded or couldn't investigate them because they didn't receive a specific address.

LRAPA regulates wood smoke based on daily and yearly standards defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Both standards gauge the amount of particulate in the air measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, far less than the width of a human hair.

The annual standard, which took effect in 2012, limits this particulate to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air based on a three-year average of the annual mean concentration.

For the daily standard, which took effect six years earlier, the number is 35, based on the three-year average of the 98th percentile of the 24-hour concentration.

Monitoring stations at Roosevelt Boulevard and Highway 99, or Four Corners, and Amazon Park have shown an increase in the daily measurement in the past couple of years, according to LRAPA data.

Four Corners and Amazon Park measured at 30 and 32 for the three-year average that ended in 2014.

The agency calls wood burning bans when officials forecast that the daily standard may be exceeded based on a forecast of the particulate level and atmospheric conditions.

Follow Christian on Twitter @RGchill. Email christian.hill@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Environment; Lane County's air quality agency has beefed up its investigative staff and is issuing fines to violators
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 12, 2015
Words:752
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