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Cut lighter fluid for tastier grilling, less pollution

Grilling without using lighter fluid means releasing into the air a lower amount of volatile organic compounds—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 a news release.

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 sunshine and other pollutants, the chemicals in lighter fluid create a pollutant called ground-level ozone. These chemicals can taint the taste of the food you are grilling. Charcoal lighter fluid, a petroleum distillate, can be hazardous if ingested," she wrote.

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

The Tucson area is close to exceeding the federal government’s health standard for ground-level ozone. 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.

PDEQ suggests other ways you can help the air and the environment:

  • Use plates, napkins, and utensils that can be washed and used again to reduce waste and help save natural resources.
  • 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.
  • Buy locally-produced foods to reduce transportation-related air pollution and support local farms.
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A charcoal chimney in action.