A new report is out on “The Harmful Effects of Wood Smoke and the Growth of Recreational Wood Burning,” a scientifically-based resource for those working on campaigns that encourage a greater awareness of the dangers of recreational woodburning.
Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), an organization of physicians and public health professionals based in New Haven, CT, released the report in June 2018.
Wood smoke poses a serious danger to human health. It is known to cause and exacerbate many pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, and these illnesses are the primary causes of mortality in the U.S. Despite convincing scientific evidence of health hazards, most governments have failed to effectively regulate wood burning, and wood smoke now constitutes nearly 30 percent of airborne particle pollution in a number of urban areas during winter months.
The exchange of wood smoke from outdoor burning to indoor concentrations of wood smoke is often misunderstood. The ability of very fine particles and gases to enter indoor environments from outdoor burning sources is well documented, and those who routinely burn wood should be vigilant that they are not polluting their own indoor environments as well as their neighbors’ homes.
This report provides an extensive review of the health effects associated with human exposure to wood smoke. It also examines the efforts of state and local governments to reduce wood-smoke emissions. The report ends with recommendations for all levels of government, as well as for individuals, on how to reduce exposures from wood-smoke emissions.
“The particles contained in wood smoke can have a strongly negative effect on human health and can cause lung diseases, cardiovascular events, and cancer,” stated Yale University Professor John Wargo, Ph.D., first author of this report. “These health effects can occur at air pollution levels well below regulatory standards.”
Components of wood smoke include at least five chemical groups classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Wood smoke contains additional chemicals categorized by IARC as probable or possible human carcinogens and at least 26 chemicals listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as hazardous air pollutants. Wood smoke contains many of the same chemicals as cigarette smoke.
Human exposure to wood smoke appears to be increasing, as more people are burning wood within or near their homes. Summer wood-burning has increased over the past 25 years, with people using backyard fireplaces, fire pits, chimineas, and outdoor cooking appliances. This recreational wood burning often takes place in areas where the homes are close together, and therefore the wood smoke often enters neighboring homes. These backyard wood-burning appliances are sold and promoted for use on outdoor decks, patios and yards.
“The report concludes that the health risks associated with wood-smoke exposures are serious and must be better regulated if the public’s health is to be protected,” said Nancy Alderman, President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.