Lung association urges tighter control on backyard smoke
Respiratory therapist says chimineas and fire pits can pose a health risk
The Ontario Lung Association is calling for stiffer bylaws to control what people burn in their backyards, as chimineas and fire pits are popular across the province, including in Thunder Bay, at this time of year.
Respiratory therapist and educator Chris Haromy, who works on the lung association's helpline, said he gets lots of complaints about smoke coming from neighbours' yards.
A chiminea is a kind of free-standing, front-loading outdoor fireplace.
Vanderwees Home and Garden used to sell a high-quality version, but its popularity has declined, according to Ken Paulusma, who has worked there for more than 15 years.
"We just found that people didn't want to spend the money to get a quality product."
Paulusma said lower-priced chimineas can be made of lower-grade materials and pose a fire hazard.
He recommends CSA-approved propane fire pits rather than wood-burning chimineas. If a customer does want a chiminea, Vanderwees will only order in one that can withstand 800 degrees F, which is likely made of pure copper, and will cost about $350.
According to the Ontario Lung Association, chimineas can also pose a health risk.
"A whole bunch of bad things come off of smoke," Haromy said.
He said particles from the smoke irritate people's lungs, and if people aren't burning clean wood, there can also be toxins and mould mixed in.
"Like, they're burning maybe plastics, or dirty wood and wet wood," he said.
If owners use their chimineas frequently, neighbours often feel the impact, Haromy added.
"We've had call[ers] this year on our lung-health information line who've said they may have to consider moving, because someone is consistently burning something next door and there's nothing they can do about it, unfortunately."
Haromy said wood smoke can exacerbate chronic lung conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But he said even if people don't have existing lung problems, it can still affect their short and long-term health.
In Thunder Bay, residents must obtain a recreational burning permit from Fire and Rescue before using a chiminea, outdoor fireplace or fire pit. City rules state that people are only allowed to burn small pieces of clean dry wood or charcoal.