Posted September 20, 2014 By Frank Peters

Must be a forest fire

Must be a forest fire

Some places have cleaner air than others

Some places have cleaner air than others

I’ve got a new favorite app — Smoggy.

Like a weather app, you add cities to track their Air Quality Index.

Why do I enjoy knowing these statistics?

I fantasize about living somewhere with clean air. Smoggy shows how my favorite places are doing each day.

Conditions vary widely in some places and not at all in others.

I emailed Welikesmall‘s Paul Solomon with my wish-list:

I wish Smoggy had an interactive feature. If you tracked Portland, OR, for example, you’d wonder why their meter seems stuck on 50. I’d make needling comments to everyone else who follows PDX and the next thing ya know, we’re affecting change.

California's always well represented on this list

California’s always well represented on this list

Paul didn’t make any promises, but he did hint about a next release. Turns out, besides his interests in clean air, he’s also a big bicycle rider; something else we have in common.

- — — -

I often check Smoggy late at night, after a long day burning fossil fuels — that’s when I find the highest ratings. There’s a list of Worst Cities in the U.S. and a list of Best Cities, too, but that list varies widely most days.

Bottom line? As many of us already know, there’s almost nowhere on earth where you can find clean air.






Posted August 28, 2014 By Frank Peters

Thinking of a roaring beach bonfire as a way to celebrate the holiday weekend?

Think again. Wood smoke is bad for you, bad for your kids, and bad for your aging parents, too. But don’t take my word for it…

Dr. Brian Moench, M.D., of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment gives an overview of the health and environmental hazards of wood smoke pollution. Follow UPHE on Facebook.

What to watch next? How about The Secret Life of Soot?




Posted August 11, 2014 By Frank Peters

Oh, Oregon! Where’s your air quality awareness?!

Summer in Oregon — it’s a favorite vacation destination, but I wouldn’t want to return during the cooler fall and winter months.

Why not?

There’s too much recreational wood burning.

We visited Portland and even though the urban core is mostly modern high rise, only blocks away we saw lots of wood piles.

After the thrills of the city we escaped to beautiful Bend. A Saturday morning eBike ride took us along the Deschutes River then looped through the Historic District. Bend’s stately old homes look lovely and because the whole point of this visit is to gauge the suitability of relocating for retirement; it’s easy to picture living in this gorgeous city.

Except for all the soot-stained chimneys, Bend would be a top choice. One retirement article puts Bend in the top 3, with Tucson and Austin when it comes to the best locales for seniors, but moving here would be worse than living at the beach fire pits. Our neighbors here in Sunriver were burning wood this morning — only 100 ft away — compelling us to close all our doors and windows. A cynic might say, it feels just like home!

Ironically, our Oregon friends pride themselves on their environmental awareness. When we inquire, “What’s the water quality like here in Bend?” We hear how environmentally focused Oregonians are, but they’ve got a huge blind-spot in their self-congratulatory environmental awareness — no one’s paying much attention to the air they breathe.

It’ll take a long time I’m guessing, before our neighbors to the north get serious about clean air as well as water.





Posted July 6, 2014 By Barbara Peters
Wall to wall pop-ups

Fire Pit City: Wall to wall pop-ups with a lot more cooking

Density? Check. Intensity? Check.


It’s how the Coastal Commission measures access.

It’s the peak of the summer scene and for months now, people have been burning charcoal instead of wood in the 27 fire rings here at Big Corona.

Apart from the ever-growing density and intensity of traffic, there’s no less beach access.

Charcoal turns out to be a much cleaner fuel, up to 90% lower particulate matter emissions than seasoned wood. If one wood burning beach fire is equivalent to the secondhand smoke of 800 cigarettes, that must mean charcoal is only as bad as 80.

So why does Coastal continue to endorse wood burning?


Turns out they think cleaner fuels might reduce the density and intensity of use of beach fire rings. At recent Senate Hearings, Coastal even suggested Newport Beach should spread out the fire rings on the beach to allow maximum wood burning under Rule 444.

So you be the judge — do you see any lack of density? How about intensity? How do they measure that? These folks all seem to be having an intensely good time.

How about spreading fire rings out? Who should have to move their blankets or umbrellas to make room for wood burning? And where could they move them? Parking revenues are up and the parking lot is full.

Seems to me that clean air is one of the best “low-cost visitor-serving opportunities” we could offer.

Density and intensity seem to be taking care of themselves.


Some say charcoal-only burning deters beachgoers — not this weekend!

A super beach day!

Who’s more vulnerable to wood smoke? Kids




Posted July 5, 2014 By Frank Peters
The day after the fireworks shows

July 5th — Unhealthy readings the day after the fireworks shows

It wasn’t advertised, because I was looking — how close to home were any fireworks shows gonna be?

Too close it turned out and although we had a great view of the colorful glow, to see the huge clouds of smoke sent a chill. Now today the whole westside is suffering — we call it July 4th, but it’s the aftermath on the 5th when air quality in the basin is often the worst of the year.


I just got back from a bike ride through Crystal Cove State Park; now I see how unhealthy the air is, the air I was gulping.

This afternoon instead of a lot of outdoor exercising I’ll be catching up on my favorite TV shows…

When you live under the dome you better think twice about what you burn...

When you live under the dome you better think twice about what you burn…
But we all live under a dome




Posted June 28, 2014 By Frank Peters


Did they spell my name right?

That’s often what I look for first — are we named in the article?

If so, we’ll likely be reviled somewhere in the comments. This news cycle has been a little more aggressive; Facebook comments aren’t discouraging people from saying some pretty nasty stuff. What do people mean when they say,

It would be easier to get rid of the Peters…

The Daily Pilot called the Fire Rings the 2013 Issue of the Year and the Top Story to Watch in 2014, so you can count on them chiming in with an update on the Senate’s latest action this week.

This week’s Orange County Register story is well balanced, but attracts more vitriol. Probably because everyone in Newport Beach is a little tired of the subject, the Daily Pilot got one nutty comment, a few more in Corona del Mar Today, where the focus has been more on the outrageous costs of protecting fellow residents by providing charcoal to beachgoers who didn’t know that wood burning is on hold — apparently the City spending $2,000 per month is too much for some.

Meanwhile, life at the beach is great. The summer crowds have arrived in force. Volleyballers grunt and cheer, babies cry, girls shout — it’s an all-day soundtrack of fun at the beach. Best of all, the nighttime fire pits burn as brightly as ever, without poisoning the nearby residents. It’s a win-win solution, not without some glitches, so it’s gonna get harder to keep writing about how charcoal ruins the experience — eventually everyone’s gonna get used to it…




Posted June 24, 2014 By Frank Peters


Another trip to Sacramento, another Committee hearing, another vote against clean air.

Today’s good news is that, although Travis Allen’s AB 1102 Fire Rings bill moves forward, it’s been amended so extensively, there’s no comparison to where it started. Newport Beach continues to require charcoal-only at the fire pits. Allen gets nothing but bragging rights — he’s saved the fire rings as his press release will claim, but Huntington Beach’s 550 pits were never in jeopardy.



Posted June 14, 2014 By Frank Peters
Click for PDF

On the balboa peninsula

Trying to introduce the topic of toxic fire pits to someone for the first time?

This photo works well.

It shows the 700′ boundary — the first-in-the-nation fire pits regulation as set by the South Coast AQMD. You don’t want to live inside the red toxic boundary, but as you see, many people do.

See all those residences? Count about 6 people per, as they’re all duplexes or triplexes, that’s a lot of people at risk.

The red circle on the right is centered on 18 fire pits. Notice the Junior Lifeguards Headquarters and the playground close by — no one argues: it’s not good to expose children to wood smoke. The circle on the left is centered on 15 fire pits.

So all those residents, do you think they knew when they moved here? Of course, many of these nearby residents don’t know now, unless they dispute the scientific evidence, as is so popular with Orange County Republicans these days. But as long-term followers of this site know, their health is being adversely affected every night.

This photo has proven to be the most popular of my Legislative handouts. One staffer told me she preferred it because it conveyed so much information. Another staffer said she like to see exactly what everyone’s talking about.

When you take a closer look you can see — there’s no place to spread the fire pits out such that they won’t poison some unsuspecting residents and visitors. The beach is just too shallow – at its deepest, it’s only 400′ from residences to shoreline. That’s too toxic, especially now that we know the harmful emissions per minute from one pit equal the second-hand smoke of 800 cigarettes. The only way save the pits without poisoning more people is to use cleaner fuels. And imagine if you tried to spread wood-burning pits out — news of such a plan would fill the Council Chambers with angry residents. That’s why the City Manager told me he won’t do it, because moving the pits means affecting more people.

The same is true in Corona del Mar. Only the number of fire pits is different.

Click for PDF

Too many, too close and nowhere to spread them out

If you spread the fire pits out along the beach at Big Corona then you poison every beachgoer, plus more nearby residents. Fortunately, the beach is too shallow to try.

That leaves only one workable alternative: leave all the fire pits as charcoal-only.

Maybe someday there will be even cleaner natural gas alternatives, but until then, the only option to minimize the toxic impact is to use charcoal.

AB 1102 doesn’t protect beachgoers or residents. The next City Council could reneg on charcoal and spread wood-burning fire pits up and down the beach. It’s a public health scenario no one will be happy with.




Posted June 12, 2014 By Frank Peters

I’ve been making the rounds in the Capitol, talking to staffers on the State Senate’s Natural Resources Committee, the next stop for the Fire Rings Bill, AB 1102.

It’s fun meeting new people and making your pitch in 5 minutes or less. I think I’m good at it.

Sometimes you’re making your case while they listen and other times you’re dealing with objections. It can give you a hint as to who they’ve been talking to and where they’re coming from.

Today I kept hearing the same old question,

How long have you lived near these fire rings?

You want to be a good listener, but at the same time you’ve got to be quick with your rebuttals. Nine times out of ten this question is just the setup for,

So you knew when you moved in that the fire rings were there?

You can read many things into this argument, but sensitivity for the suffering of your fellow man is not one of them. Like so much of politics today, it’s a heartless perspective.

I like to think I’ve got good counter arguments, like “Most of the science of the adverse health effects of wood burning is less than 10 years old,” but as they say in bicycle advocacy, “When you’re explaining you’re losing.”

So instead I’m working on new rebuttals. My first one goes like this,

When did you first learn of the dangers of breathing wood smoke?

For most of us it’s been quite recent. And of course, many do not yet know, so it’s a process of learning, of public education.

I’ve been thinking of the milestones in my discovery. One timeline that comes to mind, I know I knew when Sam Harris published The Fireplace Delusion in February 2012, because I jumped for joy when I imagined how his arguments might affect our initiative.

I know I didn’t know about the adverse health effects from breathing asbestos, back when I was a pup and my dad would take me out to the Johns-Manville open-air asbestos dump. We just didn’t know.

Home (cough!) sweet home!

Home (cough!) sweet home!

Barbara and I dream of moving to a neighborhood with cleaner air someday, but I can tell that most realtors still don’t know of the adverse effects because too many of the Homes-For-Sale websites show pictures of the interiors of your new dream home, prominently featuring — you guessed it — wood burning fireplaces! Most people still have no idea what we’re talking about when it comes to wood smoke.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter when you learned, only that you do know now and as a Senator, what you’re going to do about it.

So when was my first time?

It was sometime early on in this process, when my wife Barbara started soliciting letters from prominent health scientists — to read their letters was startling — there were no two ways about it: the toxins and particulates emitted by the fire rings were worse than I ever imagined.

As my City Manager is famous for saying, “You can’t un-ring that bell.” Once you know, there’s no deluding yourself any further.

Wood smoke from the beach fire rings is terrible for public health, both for the downwind beach-goers and the nearby residents.

When was your first time?




Posted June 6, 2014 By Frank Peters

Watch the final 30 minutes of the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee hearing on the Fire Rings Bill.

Don’t have 100 minutes to watch the entire hearing?

Wanna watch the best parts?

I started out wanting to edit this down so I could capture the Coastal Commission’s mouthful,

The fire rings are a low-cost, visitor-serving, recreational opportunity…

But once I located that sound bite, everything started to sound interesting. This shorter version featuring the final 30 minutes captures the highlights.