Please enjoy my column for the May-June 2018 Edition of the Loon Lake Times
The sun has finally returned to brighten our days. The swallows sing and swoop overhead. The coots have taken over the lake, though the heron still finds there’s plenty of space. It’s spring—really SPRING—at last here at Loon Lake! The warmer temperatures invite back more neighbors and friends. And at last I can rejoice in opening the windows—life just feels better when it’s all aired out!
Once upon a time, living in cities, I had to be more careful about opening my windows. The pollution of traffic, cigarette smoke, and a hazy industrial grime threatened my joy, health, and love of life in the fresh, clean air. Though many find it hard to understand the allure of a more rural, quiet existence; the clean air, serenity, and gift of relative silence have all done wonders for my state of being. But I wonder, do we realize, even appreciate Mother Nature’s inherent gifts like the fresh air we depend on essentially to be? It’s a gift that so many in the cities long for, and many will unfortunately never know. It’s the type of gift we must honor and treasure, respect, protect, and preserve for all.
Among the benefits of airing out our homes is the insurance of greatly improved indoor air quality, not only a health enhancer, but in some cases a life saver. Moving to this region, I was surprised to discover that both Stevens and Spokane counties are among the “hottest regions” in the nation for radon gas. Radon gas is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and naturally occurring; it comes from the breakdown of uranium in the earth. This gas, however, can become trapped and build up over time in our closed-up houses, especially after a long winter. Long-term exposure to this radioactive gas has been directly linked to lung cancer and certain types of sarcomas (cancerous tumors). You can check your indoor air quality, and specifically radon levels, with testing kits available from most hardware stores. And some in this region have found it necessary to install ventilation systems. But one of the easiest, cheapest ways to improve your indoor air quality, at least in this area, is to simply open your windows. Other sources of indoor air pollution with links to various cancers include a buildup of gasses from cleaning products, pesticides, herbicides, and also from clothing that’s been treated with dry-cleaning chemicals. Carbon monoxide and dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dust, and mold can also cause serious, life-threatening effects. When in doubt, air it out!
Of course opening you windows is all contingent upon whether you or your neighbors are burning anything. According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the following list of items are banned from being burned, at all times, in all places, due to public health and safety concerns:
- Dead animals
- Petroleum products
- Rubber products
- Treated wood
- Any substance, other than natural vegetation, which when burned, releases toxic emissions, dense smoke, or odors
Mike Bucy, Fire Chief for Stevens County Fire District 1, clarified to me that “even dimensional lumber, like 2×4’s, is chemically treated wood, and therefore prohibited from burning.” Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen added that “burning in urban growth areas is actually a gross misdemeanor– you can get up to a maximum of 364 days in jail, and a fine of up to $5,000 for illegal burning.” It’s important to note that in designated “urban growth areas” like Clayton, Lake Spokane, Springdale, Stonewash, Suncrest, and Valley; no outdoor burning is permitted, aside from small recreational fires no more than 3 feet across, and at least 25 feet from any structure or standing timber. The bottom line:
Burning prohibited, toxic items in the area not only poisons you, but your family, friends, and neighbors too.
Clean air is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts that costs us nothing; but it’s up to each one of us to honor and preserve this essential common good, that for some has already become a foreign luxury. As cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and New York suffocate in smog, and have been ranked within the top 10 polluted cities by the American Lung Association; let us be thankful and mindful. As we open our windows this spring to celebrate, let’s each remember to do our parts as stewards and members of the Loon Lake family! Cheers to the glorious air we’re able to breathe! Cheers to enjoying life in eastern Washington this spring!
To learn more about indoor and outdoor air quality, check out these great online resources:
- Washington State DNR’s Guide to Outdoor Burning: dnr.wa.gov/OutdoorBurning.
- Stevens County Fire District Burning Rules Guide: com/prevention/burning-rules/
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indoor Air Quality Guide: epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality
- US EPA Radon Guide: epa.gov/radon
- American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air Guide: lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/
If you have questions or concerns about burning in your area, contact the Stevens County Sheriff’s non-emergency line at (509) 684-2555. In emergencies dial 911.