The far-reaching consequences of wood smoke pollution

A free lance reporter asked UPHE to weigh in on wood smoke pollution for a piece that was picked up by High Country News. We shared with them the unvarnished truth–wood smoke is the most toxic type of pollution the average person ever inhales. That’s why UPHE spent several years working with an EPA Environmental Justice grant to help people dependent on wood for heat make the switch to cleaner sources. 

With the assistance of the EPA grant, we were able to convert 32 wood fireplaces in Summit County to cleaner alternatives. One old and inefficient wood burning stove can emit as much air pollution as 5 old diesel trucks. Emissions from modern combustion appliances for wood logs may increase ten-fold if they are not operated appropriately, and most of them are not. One EPA certified wood stove can produce as much pollution as 60 natural gas furnaces One unregulated wood stove can produce as much pollution as 3,000 natural gas furnaces.

“It’s a common misconception [that wood smoke isn’t toxic]. Nothing could be further from the truth” Brian Moench, M.D. said for the article. 

Wood smoke is toxic for these reasons: 

1. The particles generated are even smaller than those typically emitted from tail pipes and smoke stacks. 

2. The particles are saturated with highly toxic chemicals like PAHs and heavy metals.  Burning 10 lbs of wood in a fireplace for one hour releases as many PAHs as between 6,000 and 35,000 packs of cigarettes.

3. Released from chimneys in neighborhoods and from restaurants, wood smoke originates close to people’s homes where they spend most of their time, from a low height that doesn’t promote dispersion. Once the smoke penetrates your home it stays suspended in your indoor for a long time (unless you open your windows), and then lands on your surfaces–furniture, counter tops, floors–and gets resuspended during indoor activity.  That is especially true for small children whose activity is close to the floor.

To protect your health, don’t burn wood or go to restaurants that do, and support legislation to reign in wood burning in all its forms, including helping people who burn wood transition to cleaner sources. We have laws that prevent people from having to endure second hand cigarette smoke, no one should be forced to endure second hand wood smoke either.

Read the piece in High Country News here.