Wood burning to blame for Montreal winter smog

Montreal had 26 smog days last winter -- but 24 so far this year.
Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are responsible for half of Montreal's winter smog days, according to Environment Canada. (Pat Wellenbach/AP)

Wood stoves and fireplaces are responsible for half of winter smog days in Montreal, according to André Cantin of Environment Canada.

There were 26 smog days during last year’s winter period -- that is, early November to mid-April. So far this winter, there have already been 24.

"During the winter time, smog is very closely related to wood burning. So during very cold days, people will make some fires, and that will produce smog particles that will cause the smog over greater Montreal or even over Quebec," Cantin said.

Kirkland mayor John Meaney said at least three-quarters of the West Island town’s homes have fireplaces or wood stoves, even though a $900 grant is available to residents who want to switch from wood-burning to burning propane, natural gas or pellets by way of the Feu Vert program.

"We passed a bylaw back in April of 2008 prohibiting wood-burning stoves as your main heating system, and saying if it’s secondary heating, it has to be [environmenally friendly]," Meaney said.

Beaconsfield resident Nathalie Doiron suffers from asthma and said her condition has been markedly worse this year -- something she attributes to colder temperatures and increased wood-burning.

"When people are burning really strongly around us, it all comes in the house, and it’s as if we had a stove in our house ourselves," she said.

She said she approached all of her neighbours and asked them to at least burn less, but she said there was no understanding whatsoever.

The City of Montreal banned new installations of wood-burning appliances in 2009, but the rule doesn’t apply to existing fireplaces or wood stoves.

Meaney said even if existing appliances were outlawed, a ban would be difficult to enforce in practice.

"Do you have somebody walking up and down the street trying to smell to see if there’s a fireplace on, or do you take complaints from residents?" he asked.