Draft wood smoke ordinance – we welcome your thoughts!

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

After this summer, we all understand the negative impacts of wood smoke. The fires in our beloved Columbia River Gorge and throughout the state brought poor air quality advisories to our region for much of August and September. We were frustrated at being advised to stay indoors during the summer months and many even experienced coughing and difficulty breathing caused by the poor air quality.

But wood smoke is a health hazard in the winter months as well, particularly during certain weather conditions, called inversions, when smoke from household or other fires lingers close to the ground and creates smoky, hazy conditions.

Given that wood smoke has been shown to contribute to heart and lung disease, respiratory distress and low birth weight, we are crafting an ordinance to reduce harmful wood smoke when the problem is most severe. In addition to the negative health impacts, our region has been close in recent years to violating federal air quality standards. Violating these standards would result in sanctions on business, industry and individuals.

The ordinance we’re considering to combat the wood smoke problem will not be heavy-handed. Our draft proposal is similar to the policies adopted in Washington, Jackson and Klamath counties and other local governments throughout the state. It would apply only when inversion events create unhealthy air conditions – on average about 3-4 times per year. Last winter, we didn’t have any inversion events. Low income households and those without an alternative source of heat would be exempt from the regulations, and we would support people in transitioning from wood-burning to other healthier alternatives. The program would be complaint-driven and households would get two warnings before being subject to a fine. We want this to be an educational effort, not a punitive one.

We want to hear from you about this proposal. The draft ordinance is attached, along with additional information on the harmful effects of wood smoke and information on steps taken by other local governments grappling with this problem.

In the coming weeks we’ll also hold several community hearings to educate the public about wood smoke and obtain your thoughts and feedback. Below is a list of those opportunities. Please share these with your members, networks, and others who may be interested in this issue.

Community Hearings:
November 6, 7-8:30pm, Fairview Community Center, 300 Harrison St. Fairview, OR
November 16, 6:30-8pm, Linnton Community Center, 10614 NW St. Helens Rd. Portland, OR
December 7, 9:30-11:00am, Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne, Portland, OR

We also welcome your feedback via email or phone. The contact information for our offices is below. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

In good health,

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson

Commissioner Sharon Meieran