This Earth Day, Pledge to Stop Burning Wood for Public Health
What do Earth Day, wood smoke and COVID-19 all have in common? The answer lies in air quality. With most of our nation’s in-person Earth Day festivities cancelled or moved to a digital format, and the state’s at-large shelter-in-place policy, many people may not be thinking that much more needs to be done to protect Oregon’s air quality.
After all, our world’s air has become significantly cleaner, due to a slowdown in economic activity, right? While this may be currently true, the necessity of improving our air quality in the long-term cannot be under-estimated.
It is no secret that decreased air quality and pollution is linked to a myriad of health problems, ranging from asthma to dementia, cardiac arrest, cancer, and neurological diseases. Air pollution is already expected to cut life expectancy by an average of 3 years. But a Harvard study released this month also specifically found that people who live in regions with high air pollution are significantly (15%) more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who live in regions with cleaner air. The study was the first to link long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) to COVID-19. It confirms previous studies which link air pollution to a dramatic increase in death with other respiratory illnesses, such as SARS—indicating that air quality is one of the most significant factors in determining susceptibility to illness. Simply put, environmental health is public health.
In fact, the link to air quality and a region’s susceptibility to illness is so clear, that five of Oregon’s agencies, including the Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority recently issued a joint statement asking Oregonians to voluntarily refrain from outdoor wood burning while communities respond to the COVID crisis. Motor vehicles and wood stoves, fireplaces, and open burning remain the primary sources of human-caused air pollution in Oregon. In fact, it is responsible for 12.8 million pounds of particulate pollution a year. Because the issue of respiratory illnesses and disease are unlikely to ever go away, changing behaviors within our control, can make all the difference.
This Earth Day, we ask you to join us in taking a pledge to refrain from both indoor and outdoor wood burning to help protect Oregon’s air quality- both in the short term and long term. Thank you for both honoring the Earth and your public health.