The dangers of a beloved summer pastime

Dimitris Ilias
It is a very common sight! Families gathered around an open fire inside a metal firepit. Marshmallow roasting, stories and laughter, sparks ascending in the summer twilight and a feeling of camping in the wild transported right in one’s backyard.
Yet for all their cozy feelings, firepits are becoming more and more the target of strict city laws, limiting them or outright prohibiting them. The climate is getting warmer and the dangers of forest fires are increased, neighbors are disturbed breathing in someone else’s smoke since there is no chimney to lift high up and new studies alert for the dangers of chemicals inhaled and the problems they can cause to our lungs.
Know Your Risk: Fire Pit Burning
Fire pit burning in both urban and rural areas creates smoke that contains many pollutants and irritants which can cause or aggravate lung health problems as well as negatively impact air quality. Environment Canada and Health Canada have identified many hazardous chemical substances in wood smoke, including:

PM10 (inhalable particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter) consists of a mixture of microscopic particles of varied size and composition, and has been declared a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act. These particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, leading to serious respiratory problems especially among those with pre-existing cardiopulmonary illness.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) can reduce the blood’s ability to supply necessary oxygen to the body’s tissues, which can cause stress to the heart. When inhaled at higher levels, CO may cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and disorientation and, at very high levels, can lead to unconsciousness and death. Fire Prevention Canada advises Canadians to install CO detectors in every home that has a combustion appliance or an attached garage as CO is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas.
Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) can lower the resistance to lung infections. In particular, nitrogen dioxide can cause shortness of breath and irritate the upper airways, especially in people with lung diseases such as emphysema and asthma.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can cause respiratory irritation, loss of coordination and illness. Some VOCs emitted by wood-burning appliances, such as benzene, are known to be carcinogenic.
Formaldehyde can cause coughing, headaches and eye irritation and act as a trigger for people with asthma.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemicals produced from the uncontrolled burning of carbon-containing materials. Prolonged exposure to PAHs is believed to pose a cancer risk.
Dioxins and furans are highly toxic and can pose health risks even at low exposure levels. Exposure of these chemicals has been linked to cancer and developmental disorders.
Acrolein can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation.


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Permits required in Boisbriand
Ever since the ban of fireplaces and wood ovens in Montreal, more and more cities are limiting solid fuel burning. Even the cities that allow firepits clearly state that a firepit is allowed only if the neighboors are not bothered by it. For example, Boisbriand forbids making a fire outdoors without a permit issued by the Fire Safety Service after verification of the premises. The authorities may restrict or refuse this type of permit if the weather conditions do not allow it, if the conditions indicated on the permit are not respected or if the danger has increased. It is also forbidden to make a fire outside on days when the speed of the sale exceeds 20 km / h. There must be constant and adequate supervision by an adult responsible person during the outdoor fire. The person responsible must be able to decide on the measures and actions to take to maintain control and to extinguish it. Also the permit does not release the person who obtained it in the event of a complaint or a nuisance with regard to the environment and the neighborhood. In this situation, the burning is automatically suspended.
Saint-Eustache bans them
In Saint-Eustache the municipal by-law concerning public peace, good order and certain nuisance (RM 1776) prohibits open fires (that is to say outdoors) at all times in urban areas.
The city prohibits to cause pollution by the emission of smoke, soot, carbuncles or harmful gases, regardless of whether an installation complies with municipal by-laws.
However, it is permitted to prepare meals on an open fire using an outdoor fireplace, the installation of which complies in all respects (design, height, etc.) with the zoning by- law RM 1675, subsection 6.2. 8.
On top of the ban mobilization of the Fire Safety Service teams involve costs for the municipality and taxpayers and the city wants to prioritize them for real emergencies.
The city of Saint Eustache warns that failure to comply with municipal regulations in force, may result to a fine.

The warm feelings that an open fire brings us have to now be replaced by a sense of responsibility for our fellow humans and the environment we all live in.