Beach Fire Rings Could Be Banned by Jan. 2015, SCAQMD Staff Report Suggests

posted: April 4th, 2013 12:43 pm | 0No Comments

Beach bonfires should be banned entirely in the South Coast Air Quality Management District by January 2015, with cities being allowed to opt in sooner, according to an SCAQMD staff report.

The SCAQMD board will meet Friday and is expected to take steps that will put the beach bonfire issue to a vote on May 3.

Staff reports filed on the agency’s websites this week reveal information about beach bonfires, including dangers from wood smoke, staff responses to criticisms about the proposed ban, some board members’ thoughts and even whether the ban will one day be extended to all campfires in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

“Residents of the South Coast Air Basin (Basin) are exposed to some of the highest ambient concentrations in the nation of PM10 and PM2.5, collectively referred to as particulate matter or PM,” the draft staff report states. “Although smoke from biomass burning (firewood and open burning) is not the largest source of the region’s fine particulate pollution, it is one of the last largely uncontrolled source of particulates, and air quality modeling indicates that significant air quality improvements can be achieved by reducing these emissions on an episodic basis…In addition, AQMD staff has recently learned of resident’s concern regarding adverse health effects and loss of enjoyment associated with open burning at beaches and proposes to prohibit burning of wood and other biomass fuels at beaches effective January 1, 2015.”

The SCAQMD board will vote on May 3 whether to amend Rules 444 and 445, including the 2015 ban on 840 fire rings. The proposed changes would let cities or counties take formal action to ban beach fires sooner. Charcoal and liquid fuels would be permitted for cooking at beaches, a report said. And although campfires would not be affected by the current proposal, the staff report states that “extending the prohibition to the other open burning activities, including camp fires, is currently under consideration.”

The Newport Beach City Council last year voted unanimously to remove the city’s 60 beach fire rings, including 27 at Big Corona State Beach. The California Coastal Commission, which must issue a permit for the rings’ removal, in March voted to delay a decision until after the AQMD board voted.

As the beach fire ban grew from a Newport Beach issue to a regional issue, some Huntington Beach officials, business leaders and residents began to speak out. Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman sent a letter to the AQMD, stating that a fire ring ban could cost that city $1 million a year in lost parking revenue, and then Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry wrote to Boardman offering to support that city’s efforts to keep its rings if Huntington Beach would support Newport’s push to ban them. (Read our stories here and here.)

Curry said in an email today that he had not yet heard from Boardman, and a Huntington Beach spokeswoman has not responded to a request for information about that city’s reaction to Curry’s letter.

The staff report acknowledged parking revenue reductions but said, “Prohibition of beach burning would reduce PM emissions and public exposure to harmful pollutants.” As far as lost revenue for hotels and other businesses, including a Huntington Beach hotel that sells $50,000 to $60,000 in s’mores kits each year, the staff report said, “While it is acknowledged that there may be a reduction in business revenues from persons that specifically travel to the beach to use beach fires rings, the goal of the proposed Rule 444 revisions is to reduce PM emissions and protect public health. Additionally, during the rule development process there have been commentors that have indicated that they do not go to the beach or surrounding areas due to the presence of smoke from beach fires.” (Click here to read more about testimony from Huntington Beach residents and others at a recent AQMD public meeting.)

The staff report includes information about health studies on the dangers of wood smoke, and it states that some fire ring users burn scrap wood, including painted wood, and garbage, generating toxic emissions.

“The health effects of household and neighborhood wood smoke have been studied extensively,” the report states. “The greatest health effect from wood smoke originates from the fine particles that can cause health problems ranging from minor irritations such as burning eyes and runny noses to chronic illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions. Persons that may be more susceptible to health effects from wood smoke include those with existing heart or lung disease (congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma), the elderly, and the young.”

The staff report also dismissed concerns that removing the rings deprives beach visitors of “access” to a “low-cost activity they enjoy.”

“But the real ‘accessibility’ issue is that many people are prevented from accessing and using the beaches due to wood smoke’s caustic, deadly fumes,” the report states.

However, according to minutes of a March 15 SCAQMD meeting of the Stationary Source Committee, the group which first discussed a year-round beach fire ban, one board member expressed similar concerns.

“Supervisor (Shawn) Nelson stated that the residents at the beach tend to be wealthy and beach goers are of a lower socio-economic status,” the minutes state. “He expressed concern regarding who is being pushed off the beaches.”

Nelson is an AQMD board member as well as an Orange County supervisor from Fullerton. He did not respond to several electronic messages seeking further comments. Read our earlier story about that meeting here.

The AQMD board will meet at 9 a.m. Friday in the auditorium of the agency’s headquarters at 21865 Copley Drive in Diamond Bar. The public may attend and make comments, and the meeting will be streamed live; click here for more information.

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