Fall Away From Wood Burning

By: Mollie Simon

RoastingMarshmallowThe nights are getting cooler, we’re making the switch from shorts to pants, and we are starting to remember our jackets before we leave the house. But unfortunately, with the beautiful colors of fall landscapes also comes dangerous wood smoke pollution for many neighborhoods across the state. How do you prepare yourself for the start of a long winter with wood burning nearby?

Wood burning and open fires conjure up memories of fun fall nights but we know that the unseen pollution and health risks are great. According to Environment and Human Health Inc. homes nearly three football fields away (850 feet) from an outdoor wood-fired boilers had six times the level of particulates as control homes. Even the smallest outdoor wood-fired boiler has the potential to emit almost one and one-half tons of particulate matter every year. Particulate matter is one of the greatest air pollution threats to health and is the pollutant most closely associated with deaths. The World Health Organization estimates that particulate matter worldwide is estimated to cause about 16% of lung cancer deaths, 11% of COPD deaths, and more than 20% of ischemic heart disease and stroke.map app

I See Smoke published a guide for how to talk to neighbors about what can sometimes be a difficult topic. Spreading information about the very real health impacts of wood burning is the strongest way to motivate someone to make better heating choices. The guide offers suggestions for how to start these conversations and how to present information in a respectful and strong manner.

Sometimes talking is not enough. I See Smoke also has an application you can use to report wood burning to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and to local health agencies. These are good options if communication is not getting through to the wood burner. It is also important to report burning to your local authorities in order to flag this as a priority issue for your township.

Through education, we can help spread the word that you do not have to have a fire in order to have a cozy fall or winter day. Burning wood threatens the health of your family and your neighbors. This fall, avoid burning wood and encourage your neighbors and family to do the same.

I See Smoke Releases Our First Wood Smoke Action Guide

By: Mollie Simon

WoWood smoke neighbor guide coverod smoke pollution is a problem facing residential communities across the country. But sometimes our concerns about a possible confrontation prevent us from taking that first step to initiate a conversation with a neighbor whose smoke is affecting us. Clean Air Council’s I See Smoke program was asked by residents to create a guide to help those impacted by wood smoke through the process of talking to our neighbors and illustrate how to take next steps if the problem continues.

You can view the guide here. Included in the guide are tips on how to begin the conversation, guidelines for how to approach your neighbor, information on how to take action when discussion isn’t working, fact sheets, and more.


Here are some of the biggest take aways:

  • Make a connection to your neighbor before bringing up the problem. People are much more likely to listen to a friend than an aloof neighbor. Even though you may be angry, try to put that aside and start the conversation off on a positive note.
  • Share your personal story—it may not have even crossed your neighbors mind that this is a big problem for you. Calmly explain how wood smoke is impacting your family’s health.
  • Have the facts and share them. Wood smoke pollution is not a well-known danger. By sharing the I See Smoke fact sheets, you can help illustrate some of the biggest negative health impacts of burning wood.
  • Be empathetic. Just as you want your neighbor to understand your perspective on wood smoke; it is important to take the time to listen to their concerns. We know that low costs or convenience should not trump health and safety, but it is important to know that wood burning could be seen by the neighbor as cost-effective option.

Starting the conversation is not always easy but sometimes taking time to sit down and calmly explain the problem to your neighbor can have a big difference. If you are dealing with a wood burning neighbor and need assistance, please feel free to reach out to I See Smoke PA.

Connect with us!

Website: ISeeSmokePA.org
Mapping app: wikimapping.net/wikimap/smoke.html
Facebook: Facebook.com/ISeeSmokePA
Twitter: @ISeeSmokePA
Email: Mollie Simon at msimon@cleanair.org
Phone: 215-567-4004 ext: 128

New Study Shows Wood Burning Regulation Significantly Improves Public Health

May 15th, 2015
By: Mollie Simon

Last month, scientists from California released a report detailing the effects of wood burning regulation on public health in the San Joaquin Air Basin. Their findings confirm that regulations to limit or stop wood-burning save lives and make for healthier lungs.


Source: wikipedia.org

In particular, this study looked at something called Rule 4901, a regulation first adopted in 1992 and amended in 2003, which aimed to reduce emissions of carbon monoxide and particulates from residential wood burning fireplaces and heaters during the burn season (November- February). This was accomplished by establishing no-burn days when air quality in the region was too poor. It also required the switch out of older burning units for EPA-certified cleaner burners. Furthermore, the rule established a public health education program to help spread the word about the health dangers of wood smoke.

And the rules worked. The study showed that after implementation, they observed reductions of 12%, 11%, and 15% in particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), and 8%, 7%, and 11% in coarse particles, in the entire San Joaquin Air Basin and in rural and urban regions of the air basin, respectively. Among those aged 65 years and older, the rule was estimated to prevent 7%, 8%, and 5% of cardio-vascular disease cases, and 16%, 17%, and 13% of Ischemic heart disease cases, in the entire San Joaquin Air Basin and in rural and urban regions, respectively.


Source: publicphoto.org


This study confirms what common sense tells us is true. Limiting wood smoke emissions in a neighborhood or air basin can have a significantly positive impact on public health. Less particulate matter pollution means less heart and lung disease and healthier people.

This is why it is so important to fight for wood burning bans or limitations. This study shows that limiting wood burning helps protect members of the community. For more information about how to propose wood burning regulations in your neighborhood, please visit our action page.

EPA Air Standards for Wood Burners: Steps in the Right Direction But Not Enough

February 27th, 2015
By: Mollie Simon

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated their standards on outdoor wood-fired burners for the first time in 27 years. These updates are well overdue and will make new wood burners on the market cleaner and safer, while also allowing consumers to save energy and cut costs. Although these new regulations will make significant improvements, they do not go far enough for communities and neighborhoods already plagued with wood smoke pollution.

The science clearly shows that wood smoke pollution is dangerous to public health. Wood heaters and furnaces account for 13% of nationwide soot pollution. Particulate matter poisons our lungs and bodies. Biomass such as wood, when burned, gives off large amounts of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur oxides, in addition to volatile organic compounds.  All this pollution causes health complications like asthma, heart disease and other respiratory illnesses.

take up smoking

A PSA from San Francisco Bay Areas’s Spare the Air campaign

With these new standards, emissions from wood burners will be cut by about two thirds. This will improve air quality and provide between $3.4 and $7.6 billion dollars in health benefits. In fact, every dollar spent bringing cleaner heaters to market will be accompanied with between $74 and $165 dollars in health benefits. That means less asthma attacks, heart attacks, emergency rooms visits, and days missed of school and work.


Residential wood burning

So these rules are a step in the right direction. But the EPA could also be doing much more to protect people from wood smoke pollution. The rules released last week make improvements to wood burners on the market but do not address the wood burners already in use across the country. As many as 12% of homes across the Unites States burn wood as their primary heat source and all those thousands of wood burners will continue to pollute at unhealthy and dangerous levels. These rules also do not cover fireplaces, fire pits and chimineas, leaving other major sources of soot and particulate matter polluting at high levels.

These rules will help alleviate some wood smoke pollution. But the challenge is far from over. These rules are set to be phased in over a 5 year period, but those suffering from wood smoke pollution know that a 5 year phase out is too long to wait for new cleaner wood stoves. The EPA also needs to require yearly stove maintenance to ensure that stoves are maintaining their promised levels of emissions controls. Above all this, the EPA needs to require that all residents operating old units switch to newer, lower emission models so that the older models are brought out of operation. We need more action and leadership from the EPA on wood burning issues in order to fully address this problem in our communities

speak upIf you believe that EPA should take some of these common sense actions to further address wood smoke concerns, leave a comment for them here.

Don’t Get Smoked-In this Holiday Season

December 9th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

The holiday season is here and we know what that means: lots of festive lights, cookies, snow and family. This is also the season that fireplaces and stoves across the country will be used for heat and for ambiance. More than 27 million homes in the U.S. have a fireplace and nearly 9.3 million have wood-burning stoves.  As enjoyable as a glowing fire may seem, burning wood releases harmful air toxics directly into your home.

There is a warm feeling associated with a family sitting around the hearth in the cold winter months. While these wood fireplaces may be cozy, they are not healthy. Wood smoke contains dozens of nasty pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hazardous metals, and known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, dioxin, benzene, and toluene. These are many of the same dangerous chemicals found in cigarette smoke. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that breathing wood smoke particles during high pollution days is equivalent to smoking 4 to 16 cigarettes.

Some of our closest loved ones are the most susceptible to air pollution from fireplaces. Children and the elderly, as well as those predisposed to respiratory and cardiac disease, are more vulnerable to the medical complications of wood smoke. Potential health impacts include lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and asthma.

One of the most dangerous pollutants produced from wood smoke pollution is particulate matter. PM levels in wood-heated homes are, on average, 26% higher than homes without wood-burning heat, according to air quality officials in the State of Washington. Fine particulate matter can lodge itself into one’s eyes and respiratory system causing major health problems. Dr. Joel Schwartz of the Harvard School of Public Health has said that, “Mammalian lungs don’t have defenses against small particles. Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air… we know that when particle levels go up, people die.”.

From Flickr user Tom Wachtel

From Flickr user Tom Wachtel

For all of these reasons, it’s not good for your health to burn wood in your home. But if you do rely on using a fireplace or wood stove, there are some simple steps to take that will help make your home a little safer. If you use a chimney, get it inspected and cleaned at least once a year (more often for older units) by a professional. Never burn trash or treated wood, and make sure your wood is clean has been split and dried for at least six months. The cooler your fire, the more emissions it produces, so hard woods (like maple, ash, oak, and beech) emit less than soft woods (like pine and fir). It is also vitally important that you use a fireplace insert in your fireplace. EPA-certified models burn 70 percent more efficiently than an open fireplace.

But what is better than all these tips is to not burn wood at all. The traditions of a winter fireplace are not worth the serious threat that wood smoke pollution poses.

For more information and resources about making smart burning choices, you can visit the EPA Burn Wise program. If the smoke pollution is out of your control, you can take action by reporting it using our I See Smoke map application.


Allegheny County Takes the First Steps towards Banning Opening Burning

November 10th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

On Wednesday night, Allegheny County passed regulations that place limits on opening burning within the county. The Council voted 9-4 in favor of regulations that would limit outdoor fires to burning only clean wood, propane, natural gas,145209149_24177d4cbe_o charcoal, fire logs, wood pellets and smokeless fire starters. Fires also must now be at least 15 feet from the nearest property line. It’s a step in the right direction, but we need more.

The Clean Air Council and other environmental groups advocated for a ban on open burning. A recent report by Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) showed that homes nearly three football fields away (850 ft.) from a wood burning units had six times the level of particulates as control homes. While it is important to have regulations on burning and wood smoke pollution, a ban is the only measure that guarantees that highest level of protection for community members.

A strong comparison can be made between wood smoke pollution and second hand smoking. The Clean Air Council addressed this in written comments to the County Council.

The health risk factors of wood smoke parallel the risk factors of secondhand smoke from tobacco use. The lessons learned with tobacco, can be applied here to fully protect county residents from the risks of wood smoke and help change the social norms on the use of wood burning.

We learned our lesson with secondhand smoke, adopting smoking bans and made our air cleaner. Let’s now wise up to the dangers of wood smoke.

Some members of the County Council argued that regulations should not be passed because they would be hard to enforce. That is true and one of the reasons a ban makes more sense. A ban on all open burning is easier to enforce and is, more importantly, safer for the community.

Allegheny County is starting to get it right- these rules are important and are a small step towards addressing a bigger problem. But what we really need is a ban on open burning.

If you are experiencing wood smoke in your neighborhood- report it to your local health and environmental agencies with this easy app.

The I See Smoke App is here! Report smoke pollution with this easy tool

October 29th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

For those affected by wood smoke pollution, the Clean Air Council’s I See Smoke program has rolled out a new tool that makes reporting violations and taking action easy. The new I See Smoke map allows users to find their location and share information and photos of the smoke pollution in their neighborhood.

iseesmoke base map

Full instructions on how to use the map can be found here

By using the app, community members fill out information about the pollution they see. That information then gets passed on to the Clean Air Council, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and all appropriate county health agencies. This streamlines the reporting process and makes sure that all violations are being reported to the agencies that oversee air quality enforcement.

“As someone who has managed asthma since childhood, I am often afflicted by smoke pollution from open burning in Allegheny County,” said Don Van Kirk of Franklin Park. “It burns your eyes, stings your lungs and is more than just a nuisance, it is debilitating. This is a great tool to report violations”

Wood smoke pollution can be extremely harmful for those who live nearby. The burning of biomass, such as wood, results in high levels of soot, particulate matter, and carcinogenic material being released with comparatively little energy produced.  Everyone’s health can be impacted but especially children with their developing lungs and the elderly.

Check out this easy to use and innovative tool and report wood smoke pollution in your neighborhood. Speaking up for clean air will help to protect your health and the health of your community.