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Breathing Easy in a Time of COVID-19: About That Backyard Fire

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

With sunny skies and warmer weather, nobody wants to feel cooped up in their house, so taking care of outdoor chores seems like the perfect reprieve from an abundance of couch time. And now that visiting with friends and family is ill-advised, we get how hanging out with housemates around a backyard bonfire might seem like a small consolation.

But there’s an air quality toll to pay when people throw another log on the fire. The truth is, it’s more important than ever to take care of your lungs and be a good neighbor. 

As Pittsburghers grapple with the flu, seasonal allergies, asthma and now COVID-19, your friends here at GASP wanted to encourage everyone to be the type of neighbor that Fred Rogers taught us to be – to be cognizant of those who live around you, especially the most vulnerable (like older folks and those with respiratory problems). 

To put it another way: Don’t be a jag when it comes to wood smoke.

Saying it a little louder for the people in the back: Don’t be a jag when it comes to wood burning. It’s one thing if you live on a large piece of property in a rural part of the county and have a small fire to roast marshmallows with the kids. It’s another thing to live in a densely populated part of town and start a smoking, raging inferno in your small backyard because you’re bored.

We hate to be a Debbie Downer, but wood smoke is no joke. Let us break it down for you: Wood smoke contains very fine particles – ones that are tiny enough to reach deep into the lungs. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fine particles can trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Fine particles can also make asthma symptoms worse and trigger attacks.

We’re asking that you have some common sense and common courtesy and do your part to ensure everyone can breathe easy at a time when fear over respiratory ailments is high. We’re all being asked to stay safely at home, so we all need to do our part to make sure that we’re all comfortable and healthy there.

GASP is also calling on the Allegheny County Health Department to do all that it can to protect us from air quality bad actors during this unprecedented time, and ensure robust enforcement of both industrial polluters like U.S. Steel and residents who just take it too far when it comes to wood smoke and put their neighbors at risk. 

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