Thursday, 15 January 2009

Wood Smoke, Smog and Keeping Warm: More Chronicles of Life in a Cold Climate

This morning Environment Canada is warning that the northern Quebec region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue may be smoggy. On Monday the east end of Montreal island also was covered by a yellow pall. Despite the fact that smog is usually associated with hot weather and temperature inversions, the increased use of wood burning stoves for heating has led to winter time smog alerts around here. Unless the stove or furnace is constructed along strict norms, the fine particles that go up the chimney do terrible things to the atmosphere, particularly when winds are still.

The problem has become so bad, in fact, that the city of Montreal has asked homeowners to find other ways of heating, and two districts will ban the polluting stoves in new construction. Ironically this comes at a time when in a search for alternate fuel sources and efficient use of forest waste products has led to some experiements with large scale use of wood for heating. Le Devoir reported the same day as Montreal’s smog alert that a new hospital in a rural community will use forest waste for heating.

The smell of wood smoke on the air or of a fire in a fireplace evokes pleasant memories for many people. But the world is a lot more complicated than it was when farmers burned fields without thinking of smoke pollution and no one gave a second thought to burning leaves in the fall.

This morning may be one of the coldest of the year: -26 C which works out to -15 F. When Lee came back from his walk his beard was completely covered in ice, and my own boot laces were frozen solid when I returned from a tour of the mountain. To live in this climate means burning something for heat in winter, but we should all think of the consequences.

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