Smoke and open burning in Metchosin, BC, Canada.

- A New Bylaw? -

Metchosin is working on a new "Smoke Control and Open Burning Bylaw". With the increased recognition of the health effects of smoke, the province and most B.C. communities are working to reduce smoke from open burning. How will Metchosin respond to the following provincial goals and priorities?

....The B.C. Smoke Management Framework outlines and describes a cross-government approach to reduce human exposure to smoke from biomass burning (e.g. wood smoke)....The overall goal of smoke management in B.C. is to reduce health risks by minimizing human exposure to smoke from biomass burning.... A Smoke Management Framework for BC
A Cross-Government Approach to Reduce Human Exposure to Smoke from Biomass Burning -- June 2011, BC Ministry of Environment Air Protection Section

Open Burning and Air Quality: ....what was once considered a harmless or entirely beneficial practice is now recognized as a significant source of air pollution and a health risk....

  • Goal #4: Lead the world in sustainable environmental management, with the best air and water quality and the best fisheries management, bar none.
  • Goal #2: Lead the way in North America in healthy living and physical fitness.
  • Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation Policy Intentions Paper for Consultation, BC Ministry of Environment

Options for a New Bylaw

There are many bylaw provisions that can be implemented to limit smoke from open burning, but it first requires an acknowledgment of the problem and an understanding of the health effects of smoke.

....Backyard and land clearing burning pose serious air quality and health problems for every district on Vancouver Island. Although the provincial government expects communities to institute appropriate outdoor burning bylaw protection for their specific situations, many have either no or insufficient regulation....Clean air is everybody's right and everybody's responsibility.... Backyard Burning
Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District

Many B.C. communities that recognize the harmful effects of smoke from open burning have implemented policies that allow reasonable amounts of burning but help protect residents from excessive levels of smoke.

For example, the District of Sechelt no longer allows backyard burning as of October 21, 2015.

In the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, residents are required to pay $30 for an annual permit that allows them to burn. Burning is permitted on days when the venting index is predicted to be "Good". Residents are allowed a maximum of four burns a year.

In the District of North Saanich, the burning season started on November 7th. Burning is allowed only on the first and third consecutive Thursday, Friday, and Saturday during November to May from sunrise to sunset. All fires require a permit.

In 2013, the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) passed a new burning bylaw for most of the South Cowichan area "in order to improve local air quality and to address health impacts linked to smoke pollution". Open Burning is permitted from March 15 to April 15 and from October 15 to November 15 only, and may occur only when the BC Venting Index is rated as "good".

Starting in 2014, the City of Langford will be further restricting open burning and phasing in a likely ban...

....In light of numerous complaints from the community and given the overwhelming scientific data related to the health hazards and risks associated with open burning, Council has directed staff to prepare a report for council with recommendations to reduce the impact from open burning.... Council Agenda
City of Langford, December 16, 2013


Burning in incinerators should be banned. As the Metchosin Burning Regulation web page notes: "Only natural yard debris can be burned". Typical backyard incinerators produce excessive smoke and are not an efficient way to burn these materials. Unfortunately, many residents burn household garbage and other banned materials in their incinerators. According to Environment Canada...

....Open burning refers to burning garbage in barrels, open pits, outdoor furnaces, woodstoves, or fireplaces. Open burning of garbage is much more harmful to your health and the environment than you may think....

....We now understand that open burning of garbage -- even seemingly harmless materials like paper, cardboard, yard waste, and construction debris -- releases a hazardous mixture of cancer-causing compounds and other toxic substances when open-burned....

....One of the greatest concerns with open burning of garbage is the health risks posed by the release of dioxins and furans into the environment... In Canada, the open burning of garbage produces more dioxins and furans than all industrial activities combined.... Open Burning of Garbage
Environment Canada

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states...

....Backyard burning of waste materials creates higher levels of dioxins than industrial incinerators and is particularly dangerous because it releases pollutants at the ground level where they are more readily inhaled or incorporated into the food chain..... Dioxins Produced by Backyard Burning
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Bylaw Enforcement

For bylaw enforcement, it seems that Metchosin relies primarily on voluntary compliance and education. That works for most residents. Unfortunately there are a number of residents who ignore the burning regulations even after repeated visits from the fire department. Clearly there need to be consequences for repeated illegal burning. For example, the Salt Spring Island burning regulations state (in bold red letters)...

***** Anyone found to be in contravention of these Guidelines is subjecting themselves to a charge for services rendered and the cost of extinguishing agents, with a minimum charge being $400.00 ***** Burning Regulations
Salt Spring Island Fire / Rescue

And in the Cowichan Valley Regional District...

$1,000 is the minimum fine for burning landclearing debris illegally in the CVRD. Open Burning, Smoke Pollution, and the Law
CVRD Bylaw No. 3716 - Smoke Control Regulation Bylaw, 2013

Enforcement of mandatory minimum fines for repeated illegal burning would stop most of it and would significantly reduce the burden on the Metchosin Fire Department.

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