At a private press brief briefing on March 28, Mayor Liz Lempert revealed plans to push for a ban on wood-burning fireplaces in Princeton.
Lempert said “wood smoke has many of the same chemicals as cigarette smoke and that inhaling it may be even more dangerous than inhaling tobacco smoke”. She cited an EPA study showing that on high pollution days, breathing wood smoke particles is equivalent to smoking four to sixteen cigarettes.
Lempert said the first step would be for the Public Health Commission to study the issue. She noted that in addition to the heath issues, wood burning fireplaces also pose a real fire risk.
“Because of the Avalon disaster,” said Lempert, “I have been thinking a lot about fires and what we can do as a community to protect us all from fires that get started because someone was careless.”
“The best protection,” said Lempert, “is to just say no to fires.”
Councilwoman Heather Howard, the liaison to the Health Commission and a tireless advocate for the tougher regulation of cigarette smokers, said she supported the idea.
“We recognize that people like fireplaces, especially in these cold winters,” Howard said, “but people like cigarettes too and we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we allowed a dangerous activity to continue just because people like it.”
It is not clear whether the Mayor’s initiative has firm support on Council.
Councilman Patrick Simon, reached by email, said the Mayor had not “mentioned it” to him. “I would have to learn more before forming an opinion,” he wrote.
Council members Butler and Miller could not be reached for comment. Councilman Liverman thanked everyone for their hard work.
Councilwoman Crumiller said she “would need to hear more” but noted she “would willingly give up her fireplace if that would be in the public interest.”
A newly formed group “Citizens for a Breathable Princeton,” formed by Sam Bunting as an offshoot of Walkable Princeton supports the ban.
“We should not have to breathe wood smoke pollution coming out of chimneys anymore than we should have to breathe tobacco smoke in public parks,” said Bunting.
Bunting also noted that the fireplace ban “would spread the pain of responsible environmental stewardship to middle and upper income groups who tend to have one or more fireplaces and burn up trees with casual indifference to the health costs for their neighbors.”
April Fools. This joke story was sent in by a Planet Princeton reader.