Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2009, 6:04 pm

Breathing easier: Burn bans aim to help clear the air in Q-C neighborhoods

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By Lindsay Hocker, lhocker@qconline.com

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Andy Boswell can breathe easy. Mr. Boswell lives on the Rock Island-Moline border and pushed for the burn ban in Rock Island. Mr. Boswell has asthma and used to have to use an inhaler, a nebulizer and take medication several times a day during the fall when people were burning leaves. Since Rock Island's ban took effect Mr. Boswell has not needed his treat his asthma and has been able to exercise outside during the Autumn months.
Moline"s recently enacted burn ban means the Quad-Cities" largest cities -- Moline, Rock Island, Davenport and Bettendorf -- now all prohibit leaf burning, and an absence of burning leaves will mean cleaner air and easier breathing for residents this fall.

"It will certainly have a positive impact," said Jim Ross, Illinois EPAmanager of the division of air pollution control.

The benefits of the leaf-burning bans likely will be most noticed by people with respiratory problems and those with neighbors who often burned.

"Breathing clean air has had definite benefits for me," said Rock Island resident Andy Boswell. He lives on theRock Island-Moline border and pushed for the Rock Island burn ban.

Since the ban, which went into effect last winter, Mr. Boswell, who has asthma, has been able to exercise outside regularly. He said he can go running now because there"s no smoke in the air, and because of that he"s lost about 20 pounds.

Before the ban, Mr. Boswell had to use his inhaler multiple times a day during the fall, as well as a nebulizer to get to sleep. Now, things have become easier. "You don"t have to worry about how smoky it is," he said. "The inhaler hardly ever touches my lips."

Because he lives close to Moline and spends time there, he"s also happy about that city"s ban, which went into effect Sept. 18.

Dr. Mark Blaser, an allergist at Medical Arts Associates in Moline, said leaf-burning is harmful for people with asthma in particular, but it also irritates the eyes and nasal airways of the general population.

In the fall, he often has patients who need extra medicine or who make urgent office visits or go to the ERfor treatment after exposure to leaf-burning smoke. Dr. Blaser said it wouldn"t surprise him to see fewer patients this fall.

Gena McCullough, planning director at Bi-State Regional Commission, said the environmental impact of the leaf-burning bans won"t be as noticeable on the regional level, but certainly will be noticeable at the neighborhood level.

"When you go down to the neighborhood scale, leaf-burning has a significant impact on that neighborhood," she said.

Bi-State is holding a Transportation Alternatives &Air Quality Summit on Tuesday and Wednesday, which will include the unveiling of the Bi-State Clean Air Partnership -- a coalition of private and public entities formed to fight Quad-Cities area air pollution.

Leaf-burning will not be discussed at the summit, said Ms. McCullough, because the largest of the Quad-Cities now have bans in place.

"That"s one accomplishment," she said.

Jim McGraw, Iowa DNR environmental program supervisor of the air quality bureau, agreed that neighborhood air quality will be affected substantially by the burn bans.

Fine particulate matter released by leaf burning -- just 1/30th the diameter of a human hair --is inhaled easily and is of particular concern, he said. "It bypasses most of your body"s defense mechanisms."

A large amount of particulate matter already exists in the air because of local geography, weather patterns and industrial sources. Mr. McGraw said it would be hard to attribute any changes in local air quality directly to less leaf-burning. Even if it can"t be quantified, however, Mr. McGraw said less leaf-burning still will be beneficial.

"On a larger scale, it all adds up to cleaner air,"he said.


To learn more about the BiState Region Clean Air Partnership, or to see the pledge for organizations, visit http://bistateonline.org/ser/env/bis.shtml.