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Maricopa County’s ‘No Burn’ campaign over the winter was a success

Maricopa County is pleased to announce there were no violations of the health-based standards for the most common pollutant during the winter months. As a result, the county avoided non-attainment status and officials want to thank residents for abiding by “No Burn” restrictions and encourage the trend to continue in coming years.

Maricopa County Air Quality Department Director Bill Wiley and ADEQ Air Quality Director Eric Massey wrote a letter to citizens of the county thanking them for their efforts.

February 1 marked the end of Maricopa County’s wintertime restrictions for wood-burning activities on poor air days.

The good news is that we did not experience any violations of the health-based standards for PM 2.5 or soot, and the average concentrations for this air pollutant improved in general in 2013. We even saw some improvement at individual monitoring stations across the Valley during the winter season.

However, the news is not all good. On New Year’s Day, our west Phoenix monitor registered the highest hourly PM 2.5 concentrations ever recorded in Maricopa County. That high reading shows there is more work to be done in 2014.

State and county air quality officials are intent on avoiding non-attainment status in Maricopa County. Such a designation would not only mean our local air quality fails to protect public health, but would also trigger costly and time-consuming remedial action to return the county to attainment status.

In an effort to protect public health by reducing soot concentrations on poor air days, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Maricopa County Air Quality Department launched an ambitious No Burn Day public outreach campaign, this past winter season. The goal of the campaign, which relied heavily on support from public and private partners, was to encourage Valley residents and businesses to voluntarily comply with wintertime wood-burning restrictions.

Abstaining from burning wood is particularly urgent on those days when air quality forecasts predict soot concentrations will be at their highest, and most unhealthy, levels. Data collected for the past several years show these designated No Burn Days invariably fall on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — days when people are most likely to use their fireplaces, outdoor fire pits and chimneys.

Even though the message to avoid burning wood isn’t always popular that time of year, compliance with wood-burning restrictions on designated No Burn Days is critical in keeping Maricopa County within attainment.

Overall, we are pleased with the successful outcome of this season’s campaign. We particularly want to thank our 74 No Burn Day campaign partners and the residents that heeded the No Burn Day advisories. Perhaps the best outcome of this season’s efforts was the tremendous foundation of support we created with our public and private sector partners.

Nevertheless, Maricopa County remains all too close to violating the health-based standard for soot, which means we must remain diligent in our efforts and work together in order to keep our air clean. To protect our air and our economy, we need our community partners — people such as you — to spread the word and convince family, friends and neighbors to not burn wood on designated No Burn Days.

This will result in healthier air for everyone.