Northwest NEWS

June 4, 2001


The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is implementing what the Legislature intended

Recent letters to the editor have contained information about the origins and implementation of the state's outdoor burning laws that may mislead your readers.
   I'd like to take this opportunity to explain why air pollution from outdoor burning is a concern, how the law came about, why Hollywood Hill is part of the no-burn zone, and the role of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency in implementing the state law.
   Why is burning restricted?
   Smoke from outdoor burning is a health threat to you and your neighbors. The emissions of fine particle pollution, called "PM2.5," from outdoor burning are of greatest concern. These tiny particles (and the toxins from wood smoke that ride along) are inhaled deeply in the lungs, where they lodge and cause or contribute to a variety of respiratory problems, including cancer.
   Those who are particularly vulnerable to PM2.5 pollution include children, people with existing respiratory problems like emphysema and asthma (11.5 percent of the population in our four-county area), and people over 50.
   Thousands of calls are placed annually to local fire departments in the Puget Sound area because people are being "smoked out" of their own homes by their neighbors. Smoke from outdoor burning also contributes significantly to our region-wide air pollution, threatening our ability to stay in compliance with federal air quality standards.
   Why did this change happen?
   In response to laws passed by our state Legislature, the Washington State Department of Ecology changed the state regulations that govern burning of yard waste and land-clearing debris.
   Prior to January 1, 2001, outdoor burning was prohibited inside cities and urban growth areas in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. In accordance with state policy to reduce outdoor burning to the greatest extent practical, the revised Ecology rules expanded the boundaries in these three counties to encompass areas that previously were identified as carbon monoxide problem areas. The areas west of Avondale Road and west of Paradise Lake Road are part of that expanded area.
   Was there any public input in the rulemaking?
   Yes, quite a bit. In late 1997, Ecology appointed an Outdoor Burning Advisory Committee to study the issues regarding outdoor burning and recommend any necessary revisions to their rules.
   A Hollywood Hill citizen was invited to be on the Advisory Committee, but declined so another King County resident served as the citizen representative. After the Advisory Committee and Ecology staff developed a draft rule, Ecology spent nearly a year and a half soliciting public input throughout the state and revising the rule.
   In total, Ecology held five public workshops and 12 public hearings to discuss this proposed rule, in addition to the public meetings of the Outdoor Burning Advisory Committee. Nearly 200 people attended the public workshops and hearings and 100 people commented on the two rule proposals, including at least one Hollywood Hill resident.
   What can area residents do with their yard waste?
   There are a number of good alternatives to burning. Waste haulers in most areas offer curbside yard waste pickup for less than $10 a month. You can also dump yard waste debris at county transfer sites and hauler drop-boxes.
   Check with your county solid waste utility or your local garbage service about these services.
   King County Solid Waste Division: (206) 296-4466 ; Sno-King Waste Management: (425) 814-1695
   The yard waste from curbside pickup services is combined with yard debris that homeowners take to transfer stations and is taken to local composting facilities.
   There it is composted into a useful soil amendment that improves soil health and water retention.
   Many homeowners compost their yard waste. King County Solid Waste Division has helpful information about home composting on their Web site ( Homeowners also have the option to chip their yard waste, either using a local chipping service or with a chipper they rent or purchase. Some neighborhood associations purchase or rent a chipper for the community to use. The wood chips can then be composted or used right away in landscaping efforts.
   What is the Clean Air Agency's role?
   We respect and understand that some residents disagree with the outdoor burning ban for Hollywood Hill. However, there are others that believe the ban is necessary and appropriate. That belief is reflected in the state's Clean Air Act legislation adopted in 1991 and in the recently adopted state rules.
   The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is implementing what we and others believe the Legislature intended. It is certainly a citizen's right to express views to the contrary. That is what makes our democratic process healthy.
   Under state law, we are charged with implementing Ecology's rules on outdoor burning. Our Board of Directors has given us the policy directive to implement and enforce the bans on outdoor burning contained in state law and we will continue to do so until directed otherwise.
   Dennis J. McLerran, executive director, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency