A personal story about dealing with wood smoke
After 14 years of fighting air pollution locally generated by neighbours from their wood stoves, fire pits, fireplaces, and open burning, we have sold and moved away from our community on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.
It was the most difficult decision of our lives, and a seemingly impossible one. Choosing between your health and home isn’t fair.
After writing dozens of letters to various levels of government on this issue, presenting to councils, setting up a pollution monitoring network using PurpleAir technology, presenting academic work at conferences, being interviewed more than 50 times by media on the topic, working with a group of wonderful, like-minded people to create a non-profit called the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society, and joining the Board of an international group called Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution, I am exhausted.
We lost many friends over this battle, incurred significant financial costs, were taunted and shunned, attacked mercilessly on social media, had our property vandalized, and now face the rest of our lives dealing with health problems from the high levels of wood smoke exposure lasting more than a decade.
We had to run four large-capacity HEPA air purifiers almost continuously in our house to survive the situation. Going outside meant checking our PurpleAir sensor, and many times we had to retreat back indoors when sitting on the deck, patio, or down at the beach across the street.
Many told us rudely “to move if we didn’t like it here.” We loved Gabriola Island and planned to spend the rest of our lives in the community. We built a wonderful solar powered house heated by heat pumps. It had an EV charging station too. As we did everything possible to shift towards living sustainably, many around us refused to change their ways. They didn’t think twice about harming the health and well-being of their neighbours, and became hostile if anyone dared question the “god of fire and smoke.” Like many similar communities, a combustion culture thrives on this island.
We have seen several friends die prematurely on this little island from lung complications, cancers, and many have developed dementia and other things clinically known to be driven by long term exposure to PM2.5 air pollution.
I’m happy to report that the move was a success. We now live in a friendly, master-planned community in Kamloops where heating is done with geo-exchange. No one burns wood. Although wildfires are an issue in the region, the smoke lasts only a few weeks or months instead of the 9-10 months/year that we dealt with on the island from these other sources of pollution.
If you can move away from this kind of situation, do so quickly. Pull off the bandage fast and in one direction. Life is too short to fight battles like this when few are willing to change their ways. We will miss our friends on the island and natural beauty of the area but have no interest in ever stepping on that rock again.
Michael D. Mehta, Ph.D.