by Take Back the Air
MCS America News, Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2008.
Many states are enacting legislation against secondhand tobacco smoke, but
they continue to overlook recreational wood burning. Wood smoke, a big
source of air pollution, is as deadly as vehicle exhaust and has many of the
same toxicants as cigarette smoke.1,2,3 It is a major health hazard that
often goes unrecognized, even by concerned environmentalists.
Recreational wood burning in outdoor fire pits, restaurants, and fireplaces
across the nation has created a growing and urgent need to reduce fine
particulate air pollution. Fine particulate air pollution enters deep into
mammalian lungs and cannot be cleared.4 Wood smoke is far more concentrated
than tobacco smoke and contains many of the same toxic, cancer-causing
chemicals.1 It also travels farther distances. According to the EPA, it
stays chemically active in the body forty times longer than tobacco smoke.5
Urban outdoor air across the nation has become so infused with faint or
heavy wood smoke that we don't seem to notice it much anymore. We have
habituated to it. However, when we pay attention, an unmistakably rank,
smoky and even sweetish wood smoke smell often fills the air. When the odor
is detectable, arsenic, formaldehyde, dioxins, flourohydrocarbons, carbon
monoxide, carbon dioxide and a host of other harmful chemicals are entering
our lungs and stressing our immune system.1,2,3 Whether it is noticed or
not, the evidence of harm is present in the contribution to soaring
childhood asthma rates, birth defects, deaths from asthma attacks and heart
attacks, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).2,5,6
Wood smoke is comprised of fine particulates, many of which are
carcinogenic, such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and polyaromatic
hydrocarbons.1,3 It invades our water and food supply with persistent
organic compounds that do not break down but remain for years, causing a
host of health problems. Wood smoke has been implicated in global warming,
because it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. Carbon emissions and
dioxins are released into the air when wood is burned. Burning wood is one
of the sootiest, unclean and least energy-efficient forms of energy.1
The pervasiveness of wood smoke has become a major livability and air
quality problem. Everyone is at risk from wood smoke exposure. Children,
the elderly, and individuals with asthma, allergies, or heart disease are in
the highest-risk categories according to the US Environmental Protection
EPA scientists estimated that over 4,700 premature deaths occur each year in
just nine US cities alone.7 Other studies have estimated the nation wide
death toll to be tens of thousands annually.8
Burning Issues is an online nonprofit organization (www.burningissues.org)
that provides scientific and educational information on the hazards of wood
smoke. There are viable alternatives to wood burning, including gas
fireplaces and handsome new electric fireplaces with flames that look real
and provide heat.
Do we have the right to force others who prefer to breathe clean air, to
inhale our wood smoke? Can burning wood be justified for fun, if there is a
chance that it may harm others? There is likely no justification. Just
like smoke-free states have helped people quit smoking, we need laws to help
prevent wood burning. If you can't breathe, what else matters?
Please contact your city officials and legislators to encourage them to
address this burgeoning health hazard. The urgency of wood smoke pollution
can not be overstated. The people that sell wood burning equipment and
those who use it are selling and promoting pollution. Please act now to
spread the word about wood smoke and protect the health of your family, your
pets, and the planet!
This standard letter to your state representatives may be downloaded at:
Contact information for your state representatives may be found at:
It is recommended that letters be sent via postal mail. A public service
announcement, which may be sent to media contacts or used in flyers may be
Take Back the Air
1. Cooper J.A., Environmental Impact of Residential Wood Combustion
Emissions and its Implications, Air Pollution Control Association Journal.
1980 Aug. 30:8,855-861.
2. Failey, D. The Relationship of Daily Mortality to Suspended
Particulates in Santa Clara County, 1980-1986. Environmental Health
3. Zelikoff, JT. Woodsmoke Emissions: Effects on Host Pulmonary Immune
Defense. New York University Medical Center, Institute of Environmental
Medicine. Tuxedo, NY November, 1994.
4. MacNee, W, Donaldson, K. Mechanism of lung injury caused by PM10 and
ultrafine particles with special reference to COPD. Eur Respir J. 2003;
5. US Environmental Protection Agency. Health Effects of Wood Smoke.
2007. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 from:
6. US Environmental Protection Agency. Health effects of fine particulates
and smoke. 2007. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 from:
7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate Matter Health Risk
Assessment for Selected Urban Areas. December 2005.
8. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fact Sheet: Clean Air Interstate
Rule. March 10 2005. Retrieved on December 9, 2007 from:
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