It makes a beautiful picture when we imagine ourselves with our near and dear ones sitting and relaxing in front of a roaring wood burning fire place. But few among us realize that there is another picture lurking behind that beautiful picture that most people do not see. Some people burn wood for atmosphere and some people burn wood to heat their home. But little do they know that the atmosphere and heat they are providing could actually be hurting their loved ones, innocent neighbors and the environment.
Pollutants: Wood smoke contains a number of pollutants that can be harmful for one’s health. Although wood is a renewable fuel, the smoke from the wood smoke and the fire places affects the air outdoors. Smoke from outside can seep into the buildings, including nearby homes, thus affecting the indoor air quality.
The main pollutants of wood smoke that cause health concerns:
• Particulate matter- fine solid and liquid particles found in the air. They can travel deep into the lungs causing respiratory and heart problems.
• Carbon monoxide- colorless and odorless gas poisonous at high levels. They can obstruct the delivery of the oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body.
• Volatile organic compounds- colorless, tasteless and odorless compounds. Some cause direct health effects while others can lead to the formation of smog.
• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons- have the potential to cause cancer.
In areas where wood heating is common, wood smoke can lead to as much as 25% particulate particles, 15% of volatile organic compounds, 10% of carbon monoxide in the air and they also contribute to addition of other poisonous compounds to the air like nitrogen oxides and chlorinated dioxins. They can also cause other environmental hazards like smog and acid rain.
Health effects: Pollutants in the wood smoke can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Wood smoke can make asthma worse and have also been associated with an increase in the respiratory problems. Breathing wood smoke is not at all healthy and beneficial for anyone. Survey has shown that wood smoke increase the rate of hospital admissions and premature deaths.
Minimizing the wood smoke risks: One can lessen the impact of wood smoke by following the below simple steps
• Use dry, clean wood that is properly seasoned. The wood should be cut, split and stacked in a covered area for about six months before burning.
• Allow more ventilation when starting a fire, and close the dampers when the wood is well charred. This will produce more heat with less wood consumption.
• Use smaller pieces of wood as they burn more efficiently.
• Try to avoid burning the wood on days when air pollution level is high.
• Never burn wood that have been painted or chemically treated.
• Do not bring and burn wet and moldy wood at your home. They are dangerous for people with respiratory problems.
However, the most effective thing which can be done to reduce the health effects of wood smoke is to switch to a different heat source like natural gas or oil.