Choking in our happy home in Cumberland

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cumberland20161128-crop-numpleby-jpgBy Natasha Umpleby, June 2016

We moved to Cumberland 10 years ago and were excited to discover a welcoming community that was quickly morphing into an outdoor mecca for mountain bikers, hikers, climbers, etc.  That, along with the affordable housing and cozy village feeling, was a big part of why we chose this community to raise our children in.

We started off in a house in a newer area of town where the concentration of wood burning stoves was a little less than some other areas.  I noticed the thick wood smoke when walking my kids to school through the older neighborhoods.  Some days were worse than others, but I didn’t really think it was affecting our health.

I walk a lot in town with my dog and love to mountain bike, but have suffered greatly through the winter and spring cold and flu season over the past decade with lingering lung infections and coughs lasting several months. The children seemed to be a bit more resilient than myself, but they also seemed to cough their way through the winter months (like many kids in their school).

Only my husband seemed to make it through relatively unscathed, but he only spends 5 days per month at home in the winter, as he works as a Heli-ski guide in a remote lodge in Northern BC.

Two years ago we moved to a very funky neighborhood on the edge of town.  We bought a new house complete with a fabulous heat pump and couldn’t be happier with our home.

The first summer was wonderful, but as the colder weather blew in, I couldn’t help but notice our outside world was completely polluted by wood smoke.  Almost every house on our street burns wood, and most days the smoke does not rise, but settles around the houses.  Often when I open my front door, my neighbors smoke is sucked directly into my house.

I began to notice that if I put the garbage out for pick up, when I came inside my hair would smell like campfire.  I love walking my kids to school, but I had to stop almost completely during the wood burning months, because the wood smoke is so thick for the entire 1 km length of our street.

My 12 year old son developed mild asthma this spring and had to get an inhaler.  Once again I have suffered for months with a cough.  I have now become educated on the dangers associated with wood smoke and feel that if things don’t change, we may need to consider moving.

I believe my neighborhood likely has the worst air quality in the valley.  I have not seen (and believe me you can see it) any other area with such an incredibly obvious high concentration of wood smoke.  I know that this needs to change, or we will need to go, if I want to protect my family.

(December 2016) I took my 11 year old daughter to the eye doctor, as she was complaining of pain in her eyes. The doctor diagnosed her with an allergic reaction to wood smoke causing extreme sensitivity to light.

He prescribed anti-inflammatory eye drops to reduce the symptoms. She is an otherwise healthy child with perfect vision. This is deeply concerning.

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