For many families, cozying up before a wood burning fireplace or fire pit have been a holiday tradition. This is especially true for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. But if you want to give a gift of cleaner air and better health, there are alternatives to wood burning that can preserve both the holiday mood and our health and environment as well. “Many of us don’t recognize the harm. We think, ‘it’s just one day, one little fire, what can it hurt?’ But the cumulative effects of burning wood can have serious impacts on air quality and harm hundreds of thousands of Arizonans with asthma or other breathing problems,” notes Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Chair Gail Barney, mayor of Queen Creek. That is why MAG and its partners at the Maricopa County Air Quality Department encourage you to “ Burn Cleaner, Burn Better.” The smoke from wood fires brings a number of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, ozone and other toxins that can harm health. Of specific concern is particulate matter (PM). There are two types of particulates of concern in the Valley, known by their size in microns: PM-10 and PM 2.5. Both are so small they can pass through your throat and nose, enter the lungs, and may even get into the bloodstream. PM-2.5 is believed to pose the greatest health risk because these tiny particles can get stuck deep in the lungs. Of note is that anyone can suffer from temporary symptoms due to high amounts of particulate matter in the air. Children, the elderly, people exercising outdoors and those with heart or lung disease or asthma are at an especially high risk to ill effects. The Maricopa County Air Quality Department regulates the use of wood burning. This includes residential fireplaces, woodstoves and outdoor burning devices (like chimineas or fire pits) during periods of high smoke pollution. During the winter holidays, the greater Phoenix area historically experiences extremely high levels of PM-2.5 pollution, primarily due to wood burning fires. Pollution in the Valley is monitored by several air quality monitors located in and around Maricopa County. When conditions exist for levels to rise, state forecasters issue a high pollution advisory [HPA]. Once that happens, the Maricopa County Air Quality Department issues mandatory No Burn Day restrictions. This means you cannot use a wood burning fireplace, woodstove or any outdoor wood burning device, including manufactured logs. Fines for violating a No Burn Day range from $50 up to $250. To make it easier for people to “burn cleaner, burn better,” the Maricopa County Air Quality Department offers a number of programs and partnerships. For example, a fireplace retrofit program modernizes fireplaces with pollution reduction devices and natural gas log sets. Newer partnerships enable people to receive discounts on propane fire pits. “Wood burning activities that occur during the winter months creates poor air quality and can endanger the health of our residents,” Maricopa County Air Quality Director Philip McNeely said. “The spirit of the season compels us to remember our neighbors and the impact that our actions have on others. Please, Burn Cleaner, Burn Better. If possible, convert your wood burning device to gas and abide by the No Burn Day restrictions.” So let’s start an even greater holiday tradition: cleaner air. It’s a gift that can be passed down for generations. To learn more about steps you can take to reduce pollution, visit cleanairmakemore.com.