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Restrict wood-burning stoves when it gets warmer: Hamilton doctor

A Hamilton family doctor is pushing the city to establish tougher rules around what he says is a top unconsidered public health risk – burning wood.

Coun. Jackson says he'd like to see a town hall meeting on the issue

A Hamilton doctor wants public health to regulate wood burning in fireplaces as a public health issue. (CBC)

A Hamilton family doctor is pushing the city to establish tougher rules around what he says is a top unconsidered public health risk — burning wood.

Dr. Ted Mitchell is working with Environment Hamilton to urge new laws around wood-burning stoves. Specifically, he'd like to see a seasonal bylaw that restricts indoor wood burning in higher temperatures, when it poses the greatest risks to air quality and human health.

Wood burning increases the risks of lung cancer, breathing and heart problems, he said. It causes ailments such as asthma and low birth weights. 

In fact, he told the board of health on Monday, one hour of burning wood emits as many carcinogens as 6,000 cigarettes.

"Anything that tobacco causes then wood smoke can cause, essentially," he said. "That's a pretty good approximation."

Mitchell would like the city to ban wood-burning fire places or stoves that emit smoke into the neighbourhood when temperatures are higher than 10 C. Wood burning seems to be mainly recreational, and people don't need it for heat at those temperatures, he said. But warmer air exacerbates health and breathing issues, so burning at that temperature harms the neighbours.

Councillors were receptive to Mitchell's presentation on Monday. City staff will report back on establishing a public awareness campaign on the dangers of wood smoke, and holding a roundtable discussion about it.

But the board stopped short of doing what Mitchell suggested, which is establishing a bylaw. Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster was among those who said he wouldn't support restrictions on wood-burning fireplaces.

"A lot of people worked very hard to have their dream house and a romantic Friday with a bottle of wine in front of the fire," he said.

Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 said he'd eventually like to see a town hall meeting on the issue.  

Right now, it's "not high on my priority list," he said. "I don't see a major pushback from constituents I represent, but it's at least worthy of some conversation."

City laws already forbid outdoor burning in urban areas — including chimineas — except when it's used for cooking. Outdoor burning is allowed in rural areas with a permit.

Mitchell would like to "close the gaps" in the bylaw, including a ban indoor wood burning on smog days and new laws on the operation and maintenance of wood fireplaces and stoves.

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