Breathing Uneasily

The smoke-filled air of the recent Southern California firestorms made a lot of people very uncomfortable. Eyes burned and breathing was impaired while those of us with asthma and other respiratory disabilities were advised to remain indoors and turn on our air conditioners. That was good advice for those of us who had air conditioners.

Now that winter is upon us with temperatures outside dropping, the air is once again filled with the smoke of fires, this time from the fireplaces of my neighbors. And once again I can't go outdoors, and I am shivering in the cold as I run my air conditioner trying valiantly to protect my lungs from the wood smoke that's invading my house.

I realize that a fire in the hearth is as sacred as motherhood and apple pie, but according to the American Lung Assn., wood smoke contains some of the same chemicals as cigarette smoke.

In addition, a major source of particulate pollution comes from burning smoking fuels. A California Department of Health study has suggested that particulate matter (PM 10) is more toxic than smog ozone. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that as many as 60,000 U.S. residents per year die from breathing particulates at or below legally allowed levels.

Please consider this letter an urgent request from your neighbor. The smoke from your wood fire doesn't rise. It creeps along the ground and blankets all the other houses. It may smell good to you, but as it invades my house, my chest tightens as if enclosed in a steel corset, I have difficulty walking about, it's difficult to speak and hard to think.

The fire you light in your fireplace may seem warm and cozy to you, but to those of us with breathing problems, it is the Southern California firestorms all over again. Think about switching to gas. You'll save money, and you'll also save your lungs as well as mine.

ESTHER SCHILLER

Newbury Park

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