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.

New Report Shows Wood Furnaces Pose a Threat to Community Health

October 10th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

This week Environment and Human Heath Inc. (EHHI) published the first peer-reviewed article focused on the dangers of wood smoke emissions and wood burning devices. And the results were conclusive: wood smoke is a serious threat to public health. Wood smoke contributes to air pollution which can cause asthma, affect lung function, and cause cardiac arrhythmias and acute heart attacks.

“Wood smoke particles are particularly dangerous because they are small and thus are inhaled deeply into the lungs. The wood smoke particles contain many of the same harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke, and they are carcinogenic”

– Nancy Alderman, President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

Wood smoke from outdoor wood-fired boilers (OWB), wood stoves and open burning, all contribute to air pollution. But it is the outdoor wood-fired boilers or wood furnaces that are the most harmful. It is estimated that an average OWB produces as many fine particulates per hour as 22 indoor wood stoves.

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This study showed that homes neighboring an OWB unit had “significantly higher particulate levels than control houses that were not near an OWB”. Homes nearly three football fields away (850 ft.) from an OWB unit had six times the level of particulates as control homes. That is four times the EPA’s air standard level.  And homes 240 feet away from an OWB had particulate level twelve times the levels of control homes, eight times the EPA air standard level.

This is troubling. Neighbors of those who use OWBs are exposed to an extremely high level of particulate matter with no way to move their homes to safety. Most states have no setback regulations but, for the few states that do, this study shows that they are not strong enough. Connecticut, for example, has a 200 ft. setback requirement, which would still put neighbors well within the danger zone of exceptionally high level of particulate matter pollution.

Dr. David Brown, public health toxicologist with EHHI said it best when he said, “Outdoor wood furnaces should be labeled with cancer and asthma warnings.” Current setback regulations do not protect public health. This means that we need to adopt stricter regulations and cleaner technologies to make sure that our neighbors have clean, safe air to breathe.

Want to learn more about Outdoor Wood-fired Boilers? Check out our fact sheet for more information.