One BC mom is working to clear the air of wood smoke

Changing public opinion on the appeal of wood heating is not an easy task, but full-time mom and part-time Clean Air Coordinator Sue Brookes is determined.

Sue lives near in what’s called the Bulkley Valley and Lake District. We sat down with her to gain insight into local opinion and initiatives regarding wood burning.

How big a problem is wood smoke where you live? 

I live near Smithers, BC in the Bulkley Valley, where according to our local air quality meteorologist, Ben Weinstein, residential wood smoke has a significant impact on local air quality, presenting serious health risks. Because of our local topography, air pollution gets trapped in valley bottoms, particularly in the fall and winter when there are temperature inversions and light winds. When this happens, particulate matter levels can increase, exceeding provincial standards. At this point, we issue air quality advisories.

People tend to see wood as a natural and renewable resource and don’t necessarily realize that natural doesn’t necessarily mean harmless. Wood smoke is composed of tiny particulates known as PM2.5, and a growing number of studies associate wood smoke with asthma, heart disease and other lung and respiratory illnesses—many of the illnesses also associated with smoking.

Do locals understand wood smoke from their wood burning appliance is a health risk?

Some do, but lots don’t. It’s an uphill battle. Locals feel their individual wood burning practice is negligible in comparison to other sources — particularly now with all the wildfires. They don’t realize by cutting back or using a more efficient wood stove they can make a significant difference.

What obstacles do you face in trying to change perspectives on wood burning?

Wood is a cheap source of heat and we have lots of it. For some people it’s the only source of heating they can afford, and most of us like the warmth and coziness of a fire, so it’s hard to get people around here to change. If people feel they need to burn, we encourage people to burn smart. Dry, seasoned wood is crucial to burning a cleaner wood fire. Pick dry, seasoned wood from the local bush, and avoid people often burning wet or green wood, or store it improperly so it gets wet.

Together with local air quality and health advocates, Sue is working to bring about shared solutions.

  • We’re equipping locals to monitor their own pollution. Our local clean air society has purchased air pollution sensors in partnership with local villages and communities. 
  • We’re teaching our kids to be future clean air champions. We’re currently fundraising to buy a low-cost air quality monitoring kit and teaching module.  
  • We’re educating those who burn wood, to burn it smart. We also try to get people to switch out their older, inefficient wood stoves for cleaner-burning stoves. 
  • We’re asking people to speak up about the environment and clean air. With funding courtesy of the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest Association, we’ve begun meeting people in Witset, Telkwa and Smithers. We hope to use personal stories in a future educational campaign.

Sue Brookes is Clean Air Coordinator for the Bulkley Valley and Lakes District Airshed Management Society. To contact her call 250 877-8739 or email

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Page Last Updated: 19/08/2019