Glenn Hamer & Amanda Reeve

Sitting around the fire and visiting with family and friends adds a little something special to Holiday festivities, and it is just about the only time that we in the Valley get to put our fireplaces and outdoor chimineas to use. However, as we learned today at the “Don’t Burn Wood on a No Burn Day” press conference jointly hosted by the Maricopa County Air Quality Department and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, this festive luxury also adds a lot of a little something called PM-2.5 to our air, which is jeopardizing Maricopa County’s air quality attainment status.

Fine dust, nitrogen and sulfur emissions, and activities involving the burning of wood or fossil fuels, especially diesel, are all contributing sources of PM-2.5. However, the wood-burning activities are the primary culprit for significantly violating the federal health standards at our air quality monitors as evidenced by the fact that most-to-all PM-2.5 violations in Maricopa County occur on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Unfortunately, hospital and emergency rooms in Maricopa County also experience a drastic increase in admissions on these days for children and elderly suffering respiratory ailments aggravated by the unhealthy levels of PM-2.5 in the air.

While our children and business community are not the violating offenders of these PM-2.5 exceedances, they pay the heftiest price. Children miss school and adults miss work when they are home sick and recovering from a debilitating respiratory illness. And when it comes time to pay for the stiff federal sanctions and enforcement measures if Maricopa County is designated a non-attainment area, it’s not residential communities or fireplace owners who pay the price.

Today’s press conference was a call to the public to engage in supporting a proactive solution that will safeguard the healthy development of our children’s respiratory systems; prevent the implementation of federal enforcement and regulations; and protect the state’s economy, businesses and industry.

Fortunately, Maricopa County’s No Burn Day alerts are not a common occurrence, so we are not often asked to refrain from wood-burning activities. Typically, these alerts are only issued on those days in which the Valley is experiencing a temperature inversion, thereby causing PM-2.5 (soot, smoke, fine dust) to be trapped in the lower atmosphere. Unfortunately, the four most common days to suffer this climate phenomena and requiring Maricopa County to issue an alert are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Make a visit to http://cleanairmakemore.com/noburn/ and you will quickly learn whether you can partake in wood-burning activities, or download the Clean Air: Make More app on your smartphone for immediate access to the information.

Help the success of this campaign by sharing this information with your employees, associations, friends and neighbors. We either address this issue actively now by educating the public about the significance of not burning wood on a no burn day and adhering to the alerts ourselves, or we spend the next several years reacting to the EPA’s decisions, regulatory and enforcement action and risk the loss of billions of dollars.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Amanda Reeve is a policy analyst at Polsinelli’s Phoenix office. She is the former chairwoman of the Arizona state House Environment Committee.