It is a warm, clear, perfect late-summer day. Puffy white clouds float across a storybook blue sky. Chirping crickets offer their version of a symphony. I open all the windows and doors in my North Deering home to allow the sweet breezes of summer to sweep through the house.

I step outside. Blue and purple morning glories preen from their perches on the picket fence. The scent of roses sweetens the air, and my dog runs down the steps of the deck to roll around in the grass. I settle into the hammock with a novel, appreciating all the pleasures of being home, in Maine, on a summer day.

Suddenly, the acrid scent of smoke fills the air. I climb out of the hammock, look around and realize that the smoke wafting onto my property is coming from a neighbor’s fire pit.

I call the dog and we return to the house, where I close every window and door and turn on the air conditioning and the air purifiers. I take a few puffs of my inhaler and sort through my options. Do I get in my car and drive somewhere to escape the smoke, or spend the next few hours indoors, knowing that to remain here could initiate weeks of suffering? This exposure has already exacerbated my asthma. This insult to my lungs may precipitate a bout of bronchitis, which will turn into asthmatic bronchitis, which may require antibiotics, steroids, nebulizer treatments and perhaps even a trip to the emergency room.

The nonprofit organization Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment has listed 17 reasons to ban wood burning, among them:

Wood smoke is the most toxic type of pollution in most cities, more dangerous than auto pollution and most industrial pollution.


The lifetime cancer risk from exposure to wood smoke may be 12 times greater than from exposure to an equal volume of secondhand cigarette smoke.

Burning 10 pounds of wood for one hour releases as high a level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as 6,000 packs of cigarettes.

Wood smoke is the third largest source of dioxins, one of the most intensely toxic compounds known to science.

The very small size of wood smoke particles makes them seven times more likely to be inhaled than other particulate pollution.

Wood smoke easily penetrates homes of neighbors, creating concentrations of wood smoke up to 88 percent as high as the level in the outdoor air.

If you smell wood smoke, you know you are being harmed. The sweet smell comes from deadly compounds like benzene.


Smoke from fire pits will particularly affect infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and those with asthma, allergies, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and other chronic illnesses. It will exacerbate seasonal allergies and create a nuisance for everyone who doesn’t want smoke infiltrating their homes.

A powerful marketing campaign has made fire pits ubiquitous. Though we’ve banned cigarette smoking because of the well-known hazards of secondhand smoke, we ignore the pollution caused by urban and suburban wood-burning fire pits.

Living in a neighborhood comes with a certain degree of civic responsibility. Yes, we all have the right to enjoy our property as we wish. But what do we do when one neighbor’s enjoyment of a fire pit creates a prison for their neighbor? What do we do when a wood-burning fire pit destroys a neighbor’s ability to enjoy their home, damages their health and, in the end, increases health care costs for all of us?

Please consider the harm your wood-burning fire pit creates for you, your neighbors, your family and your community. If a fire pit is essential, get one that doesn’t burn wood.

I urge Mayor Ethan Strimling, City Council members and City Manager Jon Jennings to make it a priority to address the deleterious health consequences of wood-burning fire pits on Portland residents, and direct city agencies to strictly enforce “nuisance” regulations.

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