About this project

In the winter, Butte County suffers from a number of bad air quality days that have serious health consequences for the elderly and those with respiratory conditions. We examine the politics and science behind the debate over whether wood stove-generated smoke pollution constitutes a threat to residents’ health. In a county with a long history of heavy dependence on stoves as a source of heat and a bountiful supply of inexpensive wood, this is a heated question.

Findings

  • In the winter, Butte County suffers from a number of bad air quality days that have serious health consequences for the elderly and those with respiratory conditions.
  • We examine the politics and science behind the debate over whether wood stove-generated smoke pollution constitutes a threat to residents’ health.
  • In a county with a long history of heavy dependence on stoves as a source of heat and a bountiful supply of inexpensive wood, this is a heated question.

Stories

What people say...

'I don't have the right to pollute my neighborhood' Ray Rummell drives a full-size pickup and says he's no "environmental nut." But when it comes to wood smoke, he doesn't want it.

Wood stove regulation old hat in Reno

RENO — Wood stove regulation is old hat in Reno, as wood-burning limitations have been in effect since 1987.

For many, burning wood an economic necessity of life

CHICO — For Chico couple Sarah and Ron Young, burning wood is not about the sounds and smells of a roaring fireplace, or evoking fond memories of hearthside family gatherings. It is about economic necessity.

What people say...

'I love my wood stove' "I love my wood stove. I burn it as often as I can," said Cece Bunch, 60, who lives in south Chico.

Doctor knows firsthand the effects of smoke on lungs

Dr. Mark Miller has seen firsthand how wood smoke can affect the lungs of Butte County's youngest residents.

Gasping for breath - Fires are like a smoke bomb for vulnerable people

When 82-year-old Darrell McGillis steps outside to fetch the newspaper on a cool winter morning, his lungs serve as his personal barometer. If Chico's air is thick with chimney smoke, his nostrils and lungs begin to burn.

Scientists take a hard look at wood-stove emissions

Science is swiftly turning upside down the common notion that a fire built with wood is kinder to humans' well-being than gas and other modern fuels.

The experts speak about wood smoke...

The Enterprise-Record asked physicians, research scientists and other experts in Chico and nationwide how tiny particles and other ingredients of wood smoke may affect people's health. Their responses:

What people say...

'The smell ... is suffocating and very worrisome' No one complains about Patricia Puterbaugh's wood stove. "We live in Cohasset, and the smoke dissipates before it bothers anyone," she said.

Chico hourly particulate levels for five days in December

During the period of Dec. 7-11, 2009, the device recorded spikes, shown on the chart above, that are one reason residential wood burning is assessed the bulk of the blame for Chico's particulate problem. If the pollution were caused by traffic or...

Does wood smoke health risk warrant regulation?

On the evening of Dec. 8 last year, Butte County residents hurried home from work, eager to reach the warmth of their homes.

Is The Problem Really the Monitor?

The real cause of Chico's particulate pollution problem, some skeptics say, is the California Air Resources Board's pollution monitor in town.

Ordinance would limit use of non-EPA-certified stoves

The city of Chico's proposed wood-burning ordinance is based on the air pollution control rule that was rejected by the Butte County Air Quality Management District's board last September.

What people say...

"Fines for people who want to heat their homes with wood? It's a very unnatural thing. It's ludicrous." So said Nancy Lambrix, 79, who burns wood and plans to continue "until I leave this world."

Editorial Posts

Smoky problem can be alleviated

Our view: Swapping out older wood stoves for newer stoves is the solution. Political leaders can and should find funding to help that happen.

Authors

Lauren M. Whaley

Multimedia journalist Lauren M. Whaley is the president of the national Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS). For the Center and its partners, she produces videos, radio stories, photographs and other multimedia and written pieces. She covers topics such as childbirth policies, mental illness and dialysis and diabetes and helps her colleagues promote their work. Her Center work has won honors from the Scripps Howard Awards and the Association of Health Care Journalists She has contributed stories to Southern California Public Radio, KQED Public Radio, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Modesto Bee, among others. While living in Wyoming, she worked as a newspaper reporter, blog editor and freelance magazine writer. She earned her master's degree in specialized science journalism from the University of Southern California, her bachelor's from Bowdoin College and spent summers in her early 20s taking high school girls on Arctic canoe expeditions. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.  

Project Partners

© 2014 California Healthcare Foundation Center for Health Reporting

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