Outdoor Air Quality

Outdoor air quality has improved in the past several decades, but many challenges remain in protecting Americans from air quality problems. Ground-level ozone and particle pollution (including smoke) are just two of the many threats to air quality and public health in the United States. Summit County Environmental Health recommends various strategies for reducing air quality impacts from smoke. To control impacts from smoke, Environmental Health and the local fire authority must issue permits for any open burning.

Document (9)Smoke

According to the USFS, “…Longer fire seasons; bigger fires and more acres burned …have become the norm.” Where there is fire, there is smoke as we’ve seen in Colorado. 

The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles or particulate matter. Smoke can come from a variety of sources including wildfire events, planned burning such as prescribed fires or burning in a fireplace or stove.

Health officials have long known there is an association with upper respiratory ED visits and fine particulate matter, or more specifically smoke, exposure. A November 2016 study noted, “… smoke exposure to be associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular ED visits for all adults, particularly for those over aged 65 years”.  The risk of heavy smoke can very quickly create a vulnerability in the health care system if not anticipated. Learn more about smoke.

Real time local air quality information is available at EPA’s AirNow.gov site.

Open Burning

With the large amount of forest in Summit County and the impacts of the Pine Beetle, responsible property owners are having to make decisions about how to get rid of slash waste. One possible method is to burn the slash in place. This can create an air quality problem as well as a fire control concern. For these reasons Environmental Health and the local fire authority must issue permits for any open burning. Application forms can be obtained from the fire districts (Red White & Blue, and Summit Fire & EMS). The state of Colorado also has this Open Burning fact sheet available for more information.

To promote efficient burning and reduce smoke emissions, follow these guidelines:

  • Assure that all material is dried to the greatest extent possible.
  • Loosely stack or windrow the material to eliminate dirt from the pile and to promote an adequate air supply to the burning pile.
  • Build piles that are at least as tall as they are wide.
  • Do not include wood larger than 6 inches in diameter or stumps in the pile. These materials are likely to smolder and produce large amounts of smoke.
  • As a pile burns down, move unburned and smoldering material from the perimeter of the pile into the center of the fire.
  • Burn on days with moderate winds or during heavy snowfall, as this provides good smoke dispersal.
  • Do not ignite material when a thermal inversion is present. Inversions are unlikely after 10 a.m.
Wood Burning Fireplaces & Stoves

Burning of wood has the potential of creating particulate matter that can be a nuisance for neighbors and may even cause respiratory symptoms for some. For these reasons all new stoves installed must be EPA Phase II approved devices. Environmental Health encourages all homeowners with older stoves to upgrade to EPA Phase II stoves as well as we all work together for better air quality. Even the best stoves will produce smoke, especially when the fire is started but when good burning tips are followed the smoke can be minimized.

Quick Links

EPA-Outdoor Air Quality