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.

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.

Sources:
http://www.momscleanairforce.org/5-tips-for-cleaner-fires-from-a-chimney-sweep
http://www.achooallergy.com/fireplace-air-pollution.asp:
http://www.iqair.com/newsroom/2013/wood-burning-fireplaces-not-such-hot-idea
http://burningissues.org/car-www/medical_effects/fact-sheet.htm