Air pollution district prepares for smoky season in SLV
by Joe Shreve
Oct 24, 2013 | 2022 views | 3 3 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don’t be fooled by some warm mid-October weather, fall has arrived in Santa Cruz County and, for the residents of the San Lorenzo Valley, that means the return of the burning season is not far away.

For the past two years, the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District has designated most of the San Lorenzo Valley as a “smoke sensitive area,” citing especially high levels of harmful smoke particulate in the region’s air during the winter months.

Mike Gilroy, deputy air pollution control officer with the district, said that the high levels of smoke in the San Lorenzo Valley are often caused by a combination of stagnant airflow caused by the valley’s bowl-like topography, and the widespread use of wood-burning fireplaces for heat during the winter.

In an effort to encourage residents to switch to cleaner, smokeless sources of heating, for the third consecutive year, the district is offering residents grant money to offset the costs of replacing woodstoves with pellet-burning stoves, or heaters that use propane or natural gas.

“We still have some money on the table,” Gilroy said of the program that began in September. “If you live in the (smoke sensitive area), we will provide with you with a maximum of $2,500 — but you have to convert to a pellet stove, or propane, or natural gas.”

One difference of the grant program this year as opposed to 2011 and 2012, Gilroy said, is that this year, the grants can no longer be used toward the purchase of Environmental Protection Agency-certified wood stoves.

The reason, he said, is that residents often misuse the EPA-certified stoves by burning unseasoned wood and garbage, as well as restricting the airflow to the stoves.

“Even the EPA-certified devices can be operated improperly and generate large amounts of smoke,” Gilroy said. “We had to decide not to provide funds for wood-to-wood conversions.”

He said that even though last year’s winter was considered to be a relatively “clean year,” smoke particulate levels in the valley still exceeded Federal air quality standards on 19 different occasions.

While 19 is a significantly lower number than the 42 that occurred the preceding winter, Gilroy said that the reduction was due to the increased rains and winds from winter storms, not any changes in burning habits.

“It wasn’t a change in behavior it was a change of weather,” he said.

This winter, to combat the high smoke levels, Gilroy said that the district would be planning several “voluntary curtailment” days, which he described as being similar to “spare the air” days.

When the district anticipates stagnant weather — colder than 50 degrees with surface winds less than 5 miles per hour — it will reach out through radio broadcasts, TV, and local media to encourage people to not burn.

“When we are expecting stagnant conditions, we will request people to not use their wood-burning heating devices,” Gilroy said.

He said that the district’s research had shown that switching to electric heaters for a night would cost a household only a few dollars more than the cost of firewood.

“We’re talking 10 to 15 days (over the course of the winter),” Gilroy said. “For these short periods of time, we think it can work.”

He said that the district expects to host several open house meetings for community feedback on the district’s programs, with the next one likely to take place in early December.

For more information about the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District or the Woodstove Change-Out Program, visit

- To comment, email reporter Joe Shreve at, call 438-2500 or post a comment at

Woodstove change-out program

The Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District offers financial incentives for residents in San Lorenzo Valley and other parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains to change out their wood-burning stoves for more efficient and less smoky gas, pellet and wood stove inserts. In SLV, residents can receive $1,000 to $2,500 to replace their stove, depending on their income. For information on the program, visit

A limited number of grants are available.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Alan Smith
November 03, 2013
There is no safe exposure to wood smoke just as there is no safe exposure to cigarette smoke. The performance of the EPA stoves is dismal and it is just wasting tax dollars by contributing to their replacement
Deborah Marchant
November 07, 2013
In addition to my agreement with Alan's Smith comment above, I'll add my concern over the use of natural gas. It is extracted from the earth with hydraulic fracturing called "fracking". Fracking is already causing massive destruction, that include poisoning ground water in the areas where it is being extracted.
Highway 9er
November 07, 2013
I hate being cold.

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