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Resident wants leaf burning ordinance extinguished



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Sandra Boggemes hopes to overturn leaf burning ordiance due to health issues. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
June 22, 2011 - While smoke of any kind is bad, leaf burning is the worst, according to Sandra Boggemes who has an allergic reaction to it that sends her into "anaphylactic shock."

"It causes your throat to start swelling shut, your tongue to swell, and it stops the airflow between your chest cavity and your mouth," Boggemes said. "It lowers your blood pressure to a level that can cause heart failure."

The only way to counter the reaction is by using an "EpiPen" that injects adrenaline into the body, and than takes antihistamines the week following.

"I just take an outrageous amount of antihistamines just to try and keep my body stabilized," Boggemes said.

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Because of the seriousness of the condition, she stood before the Independence Township board in January 2008, asking them to change the township's leaf burning ordinance. She also wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Clarkston News in March 2008. Still hoping to get a change, she stood before the board once again on June 7 to make her request.

"I've received emergency care 10 times in the last four years for these life threatening reactions," she told the board. "When I smell the smoke from burning I must immediately leave the area and go somewhere else. I've had to leave my home numerous times, sometimes for a few days and stay at hotels or with friends because of the burning."

Boggemes, who is a Kindergarten aide at Clarkston Elementary, said she also missed several days of work because of people who burn leaves around the school and it gets into the ventilation system.

"Every teacher in that school will look for me and say 'there's smoke, is Sandy gone?' It is so intense to me from the first time it starts I'm gone before anybody else can realize it," she said. "The fire department has given me masks so I can put it on and at least get out of the situation before it gets too bad."

Boggemes said Independence is one of three townships in Oakland County that allows leaf burning.

"The State of Michigan, Environmental Protection Agency, and the township agree that the burning of yard waste is health hazard, causes pollution, and is a public nuisance. Township municipal code also states burning has serious and significant affects on property values and yet there is an ordinance in this township that allows this practice to continue," she said. "Leaf burning produces particular matter in hydrocarbons which contain a number of toxins and irritants and carcinogenic cancer causing compounds."

She also noted that out of 36,000 residents, 35,000 dispose of their leaves through other means.

"We mulch them or we bag them, it seems easy," Boggemes said. "It just needs to be looked at a different way, trying to be green."

While the solution seems easy to Boggemes, Independence Fire Chief Steve Ronk said it's not.

"We're not opposed to changing it. We're not an advocate for burning in the township, we're not going to be opposing her, but we've moderated and refereed this situation for so many years we know it inside and out," Ronk said. "I can tell you stopping burning in this township completely is going to be a very difficult thing to do. I know that is her end game and what she wants done. We are not going to endorse that."

The township allows open burning eight days a month from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. depending on the season.

"I don't have a problem stopping it if they have an alternative," Ronk said. "I don't know if they got an alternative for the amount of leaves and yard waste the people have in this community."

Boggemes said the fire department has been very helpful to her by responding to her calls as well as sending out letters to neighbors.

"I thank all the people who are very supportive of my cause and have helped me through the past four years get to the point where I am now. I would appreciate the rest of the community jumping in to help support anaphylaxis," she said.

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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