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Cut lighter fluid for tastier, greener grilling

Grilling without using lighter fluid means releasing smaller amounts of volatile organic compounds into the air — chemicals that are key ingredients in smog.

It can also mean a better-tasting July 4 barbecue, suggests Beth Gorman, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality, who asked residents to "declare freedom from stinky charcoal lighter fluid that causes air pollution, is a safety hazard when stored around your home and can leave a residual taste on your food."

So how to get the blasted coals glowing without dousing them in lighter fluid? Use a charcoal chimney in your barbecue, Gorman said in an annual news release on the subject.

Using a charcoal chimney and crumpled paper saves money in the long term, she said. Lighter fluid costs $4 a can, while a $15 chimney can last for years.

Besides being a good investment, the method causes less air pollution and keeps food from being tainted with chemicals as you grill.

From Gorman:

What is a charcoal chimney? It's a metal cylinder about seven inches across with a handle and a grate in the bottom that holds the charcoal. ... After you ignite the paper, the coals will be ready for grilling in about 17 minutes.

Grilling with propane gas, natural gas or solar energy also reduces air pollution, Gorman said.

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"Mixed with intense solar radiation and other pollutants, the chemicals in lighter fluid create a pollutant called ground-level ozone. Being lighter fluid-free at your next barbecue will save you money and improve the environment," she wrote.

From PDEQ:

In 2015, the U.S. EPA revised the ground-level ozone health standard to make it more protective of public health. The Tucson area is very close to violating the ozone health standard and PDEQ has already issued multiple air quality advisories this summer. When ozone measures above the federal EPA’s ground-level ozone standard, it can cause health problems for some people. Elevated levels of ground-level ozone can affect children, people who work or exercise outside, the elderly and people with lung or heart disease, including asthma and congestive heart failure. Individual actions, such as eliminating the use of charcoal lighter fluid and decreasing the number of miles we drive will help reduce the emissions that form ground-level ozone.

Gorman suggested other "small changes (that) can save you money and help us all breathe easier":

  • Cleaning the BBQ grill? Eliminate toxic aerosol fumes from oven cleaners by making an inexpensive paste of baking soda and water and using a wire brush to clean the grill. It costs pennies and is completely non-toxic. Make an inexpensive paste of baking soda and water and use a wire brush to clean the grill. It costs pennies and is completely non-toxic. Aerosol oven cleaners release toxic fumes.
  • Shopping for the freshest and tastiest ingredients? Try the farmers markets. Buying locally-produced foods, that were often growing the day before, reduces transportation-related air pollution and supports local farms.
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A charcoal chimney in action.