Preliminary results of air quality study stoke beach fire ban debate: Should they be regulated as a pollutant?

Some Orange County residents say air regulators should leave beach fire rings alone. They want cities or the county to decide the fate of beach bonfires.
Some Orange County residents say air regulators should leave beach fire rings alone. They want cities or the county to decide the fate of beach bonfires.

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In one night, a single beach fire can emit the same amount of harmful particulate matter as a heavy-duty truck driving 564 miles, according to the preliminary results of a study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). Read the full report below.

The research comes before a public meeting Friday in Huntington Beach to discuss a regional ban on beach fires.

Air samples were collected in Huntington Beach, Corona del Mar, Balboa Island and Dockweiler State Beach in March.

"Frankly the impacts on the community were more than I anticipated they would be," said Keith Curry, mayor of Newport Beach, which has been seeking permission to remove its fire rings.

"I think this does justify the concerns of our residents who have complained for many years about the effects of smoke," said Curry.

But 30 miles down the coast in San Clemente, Mayor-Pro-Tem Tim Brown feels very differently.

He says the study lacks context. For instance: How does living next to beach fires compare with living next to a freeway?

"If what they're saying is true, why haven't we had case after case of asthma attacks and elders (having) respiratory problems on those beaches for years?" asked Brown.

San Clemente is one of a number of cities that wants to keep its fire pits, but now may have to remove them if the proposed ban is approved.

The AQMD has long exempted beach fires from air quality regulations. But when Newport Beach asked to remove its rings, the agency started looking at a ban for all beaches in L.A. and Orange counties, which Brown says would be an overreach.

"By taking this to a regional level instead of addressing it locally and leaving it there, this thing has spiraled out of control," said Brown.

Newport Beach Mayor Curry says he never intended to set in motion the sequence of events leading to a regional ban. He's now lobbying to keep it local.

"We believe every other city should take the data, apply it in their community and address the issue as they see fit," said Curry.

But it may be too late. According to AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood, it's unlikely the board would take a local approach.

"The AQMD is a regional agency concerned with protecting public health so when we adopt a regulation it's for the whole area - not just one city," Atwood said.

The board would be allowed to consider other factors aside from just pollution.

"They take a look at economic impact and listen to all the public testimony," said Atwood.

The board was scheduled to vote on the beach fire ban at a June 7th meeting, but that's now been postponed because of scheduling conflicts and to allow more time for research.

So, the fires will likely burn on Southern California beaches for at least one more summer.

Air Quality Impacts of Recreational Beach Fires: Preliminary Assessment by scprweb