Are Utah's wood-fired pizza concepts endangered?
The Salt Lake City Council is reportedly kicking around the possibility of banning wood-fired ovens — both on a residential and business scale. These ovens, some experts say, contribute disproportionately to air pollution in and around the Salt Lake Valley.
Fox 13 News, based out of Salt Lake City, reported that officials estimate one wood burning stove emits as much pollution as 3,000 gas furnaces combined. A recent study by the University of Utah backed up these estimates, claiming the pollution comes mostly from a mix of fine dust and soot particles.
City Council Member Erin Mendenhall said it's "a bit premature" to pass the ban, adding that more education is needed about the impacts of wood burning.
Still, there is some worry about the discussion taking place at all, particularly from the Utah Restaurant Association. Melva Sine, URA president, said there are about 150 to 160 pizza businesses throughout the state that use a wood-fired stove or wood-fired equipment, and additional barbecue concepts she doesn't have an exact count for.
"I've visited with some of these pizzerias and they weren't aware this conversation was taking place. If it happens that they can't burn wood fire, they'd better find another way to cook their pizza," she said. "A lot of these restaurants market themselves around their wood-fired stoves. It's what makes their pizza unique to them."
Still, right now everything is hypothetical. If the ball continues moving forward on a ban for businesses, Sine said the URA will push for a tax credit or help to purchase and install a filter — "some kind of subsidy."
Sine explains that inversion days are a result of Salt Lake Valley's geography more than anything else.
"You can't solve the problem by targeting one thing. On an inversion day, the air's just not going to be good. We're in a soup bowl," she said.
Right now, she's trying to garner as much information as she can about wood-fired stoves and their effects on air quality, and is trying to find studies to mitigate the pro-ban arguments.
"If there weren't businesses that are strictly dependent on their wood-fired stoves, this would be different," Sine said. "The URA and all restaurants and businesses are concerned about air quality, but to target a specific market and say 'you are the problem,' to me doesn't solve anything."
Sine said the idea could move forward in the legislation within the next month. Mendenhall said she would support an education campaign first, so residents are aware of the impact of wood burning. Officials added that they will bring the issue up at the next city council meeting, scheduled for Feb. 4, according to its website.
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Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.