2011 Sept. 27: WI Woodruff (Oneida County): Rights to health and safety trump rights to nonessential behavior
The open burning ordinance that is under consideration would not prohibit the legal burning of clean dry wood, leaves and grass, nor would it ban campfires. …
Rights to health and safety trump rights to nonessential behavior To the Editor:As fall approaches, I look forward to the spicy cologne smells of the woods and the cool, dry air. It would be great to enjoy fresh air in my neighborhood throughout the fall and all year.The town of Woodruff has before it an attempt to address the need for residents to have fresh, clean air where they live. The open burning ordinance that is under consideration would not prohibit the legal burning of clean dry wood, leaves and grass, nor would it ban campfires. What it attempts to do is reduce noxious smoke affecting neighborhoods by limiting burning for disposal of waste.The proposed ordinance is based on a model furnished by the State of Wisconsin. Whether it is adopted as proposed or modified, it can provide residents of Woodruff, particularly those on small town lots, with clearer rules regarding what can be burned and where. Especially for those with health problems, it is vital to have some recourse when folks are having problems, rather than to be told their neighbor’s fire is legal and there is nothing anyone can do.There are simple alternatives to burning yard waste. The towns and counties operate brush sites where materials can be disposed of, free of charge to residents. Composting can be as easy as a leaf pile in the back corner of a lot. All trash that isn’t made of trees or plants must be collected by or delivered to a waste disposal company. Burning trash is illegal, but many people do it.I understand that citizens have rights to do as they wish on their property. That is fine, as long as the effects don’t cross their property boundary and intrude on their neighbors’ rights. Rights to health and safety ultimately trump rights to nonessential behavior that harms the health and safety of others.As stated by the Oneida County Health Department, “Scientific evidence associates exposure to particles in smoke to problems with the heart, lungs, immune system, and with premature death. Wood smoke emissions present a health risk … A major health concern is exposure to extremely small smoke particles, also known as fine particulates … symptoms of exposure [to these] include irritation of eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Other health effects include asthma, bronchitis, and in people with existing heart conditions, an increased risk of heart attack.” Wood smoke contains dioxin, a known carcinogen and endocrine disrupter.Both of my children have asthma. Many people, including myself, experience sore throat, burning eyes and headache when smoke is present.Humans naturally enjoy fire, but it needs to be used in appropriate locations and circumstances so that it is not harming the health or enjoyment of those who are not willingly engaged in that activity.I hope the open hearing will bring a fruitful discussion of this issue and reasonable debate about how we can work together as a community to protect the air quality for everyone while allowing for the recreational fires that so many people enjoy.Patricia BicknerWoodruffEditor’s note: The public hearing to be considered by the town of Woodruff and referenced by the author of this letter, will be held tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the Woodruff town hall. The regular meeting of the town board will be held at 6:30 p.m., followed by the public hearing at 7 p.m.