Local governments are asking residents of the Cowichan Valley to not engage in backyard burning and limit their use of wood stoves given the respiratory impact of COVID-19.
While backyard burning is permitted in the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s electoral areas between March 15 and April 15 when the venting index is ‘good,’ the CVRD and regional medical health officer are urging residents not to burn and to consider the health of their neighbours.
“It is critical that we not elevate the risk for anyone who may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and local air quality is imperative given the nature of this virus,” said Dr. Shannon Waters, medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley region.
“Like social distancing and washing our hands, this is a very simple action that we can take to make our community safer and lessen the burden on our health system during a very uncertain time.”
The City of Duncan, Town of Ladysmith and Town of Lake Cowichan do not permit open burning at any time of year, and the Municipality of North Cowichan has its own burn restrictions.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said health care professionals are currently exploring preventative measures to reduce the need for health services so that medications, health care providers, and hospital space are available to those who need it most.
He said that with a direct correlation between increased physician visits and respiratory medication use as a result of decreased air quality, the impact of backyard burning on peoples’ health and the health system at this time is critically important.
“In this unprecedented time, our focus as a community needs to be on supporting our health care system and health care workers,” Siebring said.
“Backyard burning is known to contribute to poor air quality, which can put many of our most vulnerable population at greater respiratory risk. During this global pandemic, we all need to focus on the greater good of our neighbours and community, and so we’re urging you not to burn at this time.”
Backyard burning is only permitted in North Cowichan in limited circumstances, but Siebring said those households that do meet the criteria to burn during the March 15 to April 15 spring open-burning window are being asked to compost at home, utilize a wood chipper, or take their yard waste, free of charge, to one of the CVRD’s recycling facilities, which remain open.
With warmer weather returning, Valley residents are also being asked to limit the use of their wood stoves, particularly in densely populated areas where chimney smoke can have an immediate effect on neighbourhood air quality.
The CVRD released an extensive air shed protective strategy in 2015 that indicated that hospital admissions for children with respiratory diseases were on average 70 per cent higher in the Valley than the rest of B.C. between 1998 and 2012.
The report also found asthma rates were 14 per cent higher and chronic respiratory illness in people over 45 years old was 50 per cent higher in the Valley.
The geography of the Valley, ringed by mountains, means bad air is often held at ground level at certain times of the year, the report stated.
The CVRD has a wealth of material related to regional air quality on its website, including a real-time air quality map of the Cowichan region.