New wood-burning rules effective immediately in Multnomah County
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved amendments to the county's winter wood smoke ordinance Thursday, Feb. 17, strengthening restrictions on burning wood in the county.
Adopted in 2018, the ordinance allows county officials to temporarily prohibit wood-burning — with some exceptions — to protect against harmful health impacts of inhaling particulate matter in wood smoke in response to air stagnation and pollution levels. Officials also can issue advisories asking people to voluntarily not burn wood when conditions don't warrant a mandatory ban.
The county issued its fourth-ever temporary wood-burning ban on Feb. 9.
After months of work aimed at further reducing wood-burning, commissioners enthusiastically adopted three amendments to the county's ordinance following a unanimous vote Thursday.
One change allows officials to issue wood-burning advisories year-round, instead of seasonally from Oct. 1 to March 1.
The ordinance also eliminates an exemption for EPA-certified wood stoves during wood-burning bans. New research on certified devices suggests that they pollute much more than previously thought, officials said.
A third change removes the term "green day," which applies to days when there isn't an advisory in effect, from the county's code. Officials said that amendment recognizes that air pollution-related health risks are still present even when there isn't an advisory in effect.
The changes are effective immediately, after the board declared an emergency to adopt the amendments.
"It's obvious that we care about making our air cleaner," said board chair Deborah Kafoury. "It is just a disgrace that we live in this beautiful place that claims to be so green and so environmental and we have such poor air quality. It affects all of us, obviously, some of us more than others."
At the meeting, officials described wood smoke as one of the biggest sources of harmful air pollution in the county. The pollutant creates fine particulates that can be inhaled deeply into people's lungs and contribute to respiratory diseases.
It is estimated to contribute about 11% of the cancer risk from air pollution in Multnomah County, officials say, siting data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
People with lower incomes and people of color are more at risk because they're more likely to live in areas with more multifamily and affordable housing, which are concentrated along major roadways and near industry where there's already poor air quality, officials say.
All five people who provided public testimony at the meeting Thursday spoke in favor of adopting the amendments.
Holly Pruett, a volunteer with the advocacy group Woodsmoke Free PDX, praised the board's recent efforts to reduce wood smoke.
She said she recently shared those efforts with someone who had immigrated to Southeast Portland but is planning to move out of the area due to chemical sensitivities that are exacerbated by wood smoke.
Pruett said Portland's wood smoke pollution "essentially makes it impossible for him to go outside throughout much of the year."
"'I'm so glad to see this work happening,'" Pruett said the person told her in a text. '"It makes my heart sing.'"
County officials plan to expand its education and outreach efforts to make people aware of the changes, educate people about the health impacts of wood smoke and encourage alternatives to wood-burning. They estimated those expanded efforts would cost $45,000.
People can learn more about wood-burning restrictions and exemptions to the ordinance on the county's website.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the total number of temporary wood-burning bans the county has issued. It now reflects the accurate number.
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