For some, the smell of wood smoke on a cold, clear night sparks feelings of coziness, the simple life and getting back to the good old ways. But wood burning — once considered a harmless practice — is a major source of air pollution.
Burning wood emits harmful toxins and fine particles into the air that can worsen asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). And research has shown that there is no threshold below which smoke has no health effects.
“Breathing particle pollution – or soot –can shorten life and send those most at risk to the emergency room,” Dr. Menn Biagtan of the BC Lung Association said in a statement. “Wood smoke particles are so small, they can bypass the airway defenses and enter directly into the lung and bloodstream and can cause damage to cells, and lead to lung disease and heart attacks.”
As with any pollution, children are especially at risk. Their lungs do not fully form until the age of 18 and exposure to higher levels of wood smoke can lead to reduced lung function and risk of future lung disease. For children with asthma, breathing wood smoke can lead to serious asthma attacks and breathing emergencies.
What you can do to breathe easier this winter
Enjoy the glow without the smoke – natural gas, propane and electric devices are all cleaner alternatives. Burn wood only if you have no other heating alternative.
- Convert a wood-burning fireplace or stove to use either natural gas, propane or electric heat pumps to eliminate exposure to the dangerous fumes wood burning generates. Any wood burning emits harmful particles that can contribute to dangerous air pollution.
- Directly vent heating devices outside the home to reduce exposure to carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and other emissions produced by these energy sources.
Contact your local municipality office to learn more about what programs exist to reduce wood smoke pollution in your community. Consult the following document updated in 2015: Inventory of Air Quality Bylaws in British Columbia for: Anti-Idling, Open Burning and Wood-Burning Appliances
- But, if you have to burn wood to heat your home, please burn smart, and consider taking advantage of the BC wood stove exchange program designed to encourage British Columbians to change out their older, smoky wood stoves for low-emission appliances including new CSA-/EPA-certified clean-burning wood stoves. For more information about the health effects of particle pollution from wood burning, see here, call the BC Lung Association toll-free at 1.800.665.5864 and explore BC government information on the issue of wood and burning here.