Medical Effects: How are you exposed to wood smoke?

How are you exposed to wood smoke?

Measurements of PM2.5 and CO inside a restaurant using wood equaled pollution levels similar to levels measured in a restaurant with cigarette smoking.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself "I never burn, isn't that good enough?" Even if your exposure is not from your own home and/or activities such as camping, or by frequenting wood burning establishments, you are exposed from others homes, outdoor burning, barbecuing, restaurants etc. You are exposed to deadly fine particulate by working, worshiping and shopping in areas with wood heating, smoking of food or cooking with wood. You are exposed to dangerous fine particles and hydrocarbons from activities that involve burning incense and candles. Our monitoring showed that when you smell smoke you are being exposed. However you need not smell smoke to be exposed. Some dangerous particles and many of the chemical pollutants are odorless also frequent exposure can deaden your sense of smell.. We know the fine particles released from burning homes hang close to the ground and infiltrate the surrounding homes in the neighborhood. The tiny soot particles become part of your environment in many ways. They can be stirred up in the home or office by movement. They become part of the general house dust. Some of the soot (including lead) settles on the roof. It collects there until it is washed down by rain and then it seeps into the drip line around the house where it builds up in the soil and is then tracked into the house adding to the indoor burden.

"Typical fireplace fires last several hours, releasing a large quantity of particles in a rambling plume that wanders many directions, usually creating a sea of smoke affecting hundreds of surrounding homes. The fine particle concentrations reach the outer walls of neighbors' houses and rapidly infiltrate into their residences. Although nearly all the particles get inside through cracks and crevices, many of the particles "plate out" in the walls and inside surfaces of the surrounding homes, and, as a result, the indoor levels are about half the outdoor concentration levels (Ott, 2000)."

Ironically just as cigarette smoking is being phased out of public places, restaurants cooking with wood or charcoal, often run by national chains, are springing up all over the country, in shopping malls and dense urban neighborhoods like Forest Hills Queens, NY, Longmeadow, MA, Palo Alto, CA, and even a little town like Point Arena, CA. Air regulatory agencies overlook their pollution as they each burn up to one thousand pounds of wood a week. They are a nonstop assault on the people who live in and work in these areas. Measurements inside a non-smoking restaurant using gas for cooking fuel showed no detectable PM2.5 or carbon monoxide (CO). Measurements of PM2.5 and CO inside a restaurant using wood equaled pollution levels similar to levels measured in a restaurant with cigarette smoking.

Examples of wood smoke exposure in daily lives:

Pat works outside in a plant nursery next to a highway, across the street is a grill that cooks over apple wood from 10am to 7pm. The wind pattern is consistently bringing the smoke across the highway and filling the nursery yard with smoke.

Bob Brown lives in a San Francisco apartment building close to a new restaurant that burns wood in a fireplace every day of the year. They burn for ambiance

Gabriella lives in San Carlos, CA with her husband and their two small children. Smoke enters their home and infects the entire area surrounding her home in the evening hours up until midnight.

Tony and Pat own a camera store in Palo Alto, CA. A wood burning restaurant fills their store and their work areas with smoke from 10am until closing time. Across the street is a venerated old bookstore. Like the camera store there is no other ventilation than to open windows. The cooking smoke filters throughout the store plating out on the valuable old books. Both store owners have reported illness from the smoke.

Keith works in a fine old jewelry store in Seattle, WA. At lunchtime one restaurant cooking sends wood smoke that permeates the store for three to four hours. Other stores in the downtown area are affected by additional wood burning restaurants. The ground floor of Norstrom's is filled with smoke as it flows in with the human traffic of the shoppers.

Leonard works at the large open doors of Costco in Santa Rosa, CA. A Mexican wood-burning restaurant that is several hundred meters away pollutes the entire parking lot area. Some days the smoke comes right at him. In the winter wood burning homes fire up and there is thick smoke from 6pm on till closing at 8. "I come home smelling like a smoked ham," he says.

Smoke at work:
"At Levi Strauss & Co., internal memos obtained by Business Week show that for eight years, at least 60 employees complained about the air quality at the jeans maker's Stern office building in San Francisco. The workers were especially concerned about smoke from the wood-burning oven in the Il Fornaio restaurant on the ground floor. The mesquite-flavored fumes hung so heavy in the air that some employees rigged umbrellas over their desks to protect themselves from falling soot.

At least three people became disabled from acute asthma, severe allergies, and other environmental illnesses as a result of breathing in the carbon monoxide, the memos show. Things got so bad, employees say, that one office even got the grim nickname ''the death cube'' because three people who occupied it all died of cancer. Levi's took steps to revamp the building's ventilation system over the years, but the complaints persisted. ''It proved to be challenging to track the problem down and find the right steps to resolve it,'' says Linda Butler, Levi's senior manager for communications. Finally, the company raised the air intake vents in 1997 so that the fresh air wasn't commingled with the exhaust from the restaurant, and the problem was fixed, Butler says."

Post script: The dead did not come back to life. Levis Strauss & Co. settled court cases with the permanently disabled. Levis abandoned the building and announced in year 2000 that they were locating all of their operations overseas. Il Fornaio Restaurant continues to burn wood."

Smoke at home:
" Jan.01, 01
Here is the letter I am afraid to deliver to my neighbor "I want you to know that there is no safe way to burn wood at any time. Every time you light up, you are sending out your Invisible toxic particulate that can very easily end up in someone's lungs. And, the very first lungs they are going to get into are mine. There is no sane way to burn wood at any time!!
My present full time hobby is trying to keep your wood smoke out of my house, by trying to fill every leak, crack and crevice I can find. But it doesn't seem to work. And, I have no idea how to open my doors, and keep your smoke out at the same time
The first night you lit up, I got sick at approximately 4:30 A.M. in my bed. My bedroom is directly across from your chimney. I have been sick ever since. I can't seem to get rid of it. It makes me feel tired all the time. Like my immune system was shut down. And I can feel it in my heart,.like heartburn. . To me wood burning is straight from hell."
A.F., Rochester, NY
Post script: AF delivered the letter June 1,01. The neighbor went to his neighbors to take a poll then straight to the police. The police then went to AF's home and told him his neighbor was with in his legal rights. The neighbors told the burner there was no problem with his pollution. AF feels intimidated and helpless. He has written to the tax assessment board of his area to ask for a lowering of taxes since his house is continually contaminated.

Smoke at Home:
Los Altos, CA
"Subject: Touching Base
Mary, sorry to be so delayed in getting back to you regarding the outcome of the Los Altos City Council meeting last Tuesday. I got very busy with work, and then suddenly the "mild" sore throat/aching lungs symptoms I'd been experiencing since December (which I am convinced were due to the excessively smoky air we've been experiencing) turned into a nasty respiratory flu (fever, etc.,) so I've been in bed since Friday.
As I write this my neighborhood is encased in choking damp smog -- I can hardly breathe. I have driven all around the nearby houses, and no one is burning. I can only imagine that something is going on with our weather pattern, causing smoke from elsewhere to pile on down here (I'm on the Palo Alto end of Los Altos, near Adobe Creek and the Cabana
Hotel) or else there is a big new burner out there somewhere beyond range who is polluting us.

Anyhow, the Council meeting went about as expected. The issue was, should they
direct staff to draft an ordinance similar to Palo Alto's requiring new construction to install a gas jet in the usual fireplace (thus giving the homeowner the option to use either wood or gas). Obviously, such an ordinance would do very little for the current problem, however, I felt they should AT LEAST support looking into it, because passing such a law sends a message, however meek, that wood smoke is not desirable.

They ultimately decided in favor of the request, but not before participating in a discussion that revealed their skepticism and ignorance. "Wood smoke is clean burning," said Mayor King Lear. "I don't think Los Altos is primarily responsible for the pollution problem," said Lou Becker. "Some people in our community can't afford to heat their homes at these energy prices," said Francis La Poll. Kris Casto was non-committal; only John Moss seemed to agree with me that as a fellow jogger, he found the smoke troubling. As you know, in City Council meetings the audience is not allowed to rebut, so I am in the process of writing them an e-mail to correct some of their misconceptions and provide them with more facts. I will send you a copy of it when I'm done. It may take me a couple of weeks because I'm on a major deadline at one of my clients.

In the meantime, I somehow have to survive the next couple of months. Do you have any recommendations on air filter machines? E.g., brands, price ranges, what to look for? I have reviewed several that are on the Web, but they all say "0.3 micron particles or higher" where as your material indicates 2.5 m. size is still dangerous. Are there any that catch the smaller sizes? Does it help to purchase sealer-strips for the windows? I don't know how I am going to do my jogging -- but I obviously can't continue it as long as these conditions persist. I am thinking of getting a gas mask!! I joined a gym downtown a few years ago, but had to quit because Bandera restaurant opened up and the smoke pouring out of their charcoal grill right into the gym was intolerable.

I received your articles and the pens. I am considering the best way to utilize them, and also I'm giving serious thought to how I can best participate in this effort to educate the populace and our public officials about this menace. I'll send you a copy of my "letter to the editor" of the Town Crier, which was published last week." Los Altos, CA 2001
(Los Altos was presented with monitoring data as early as 1992. In nine years this shows how little progress has been made with the problem.)

Lumber mill for a neighbor." I moved from a big city to a small town
three years ago. The air's cleaner in the country, right? Wrong. Ever since I moved here, I've been suffering breathing difficulties and coughing, especially at night. The problems have gotten worse, to the point where I catch every flu and cold that's around. I have been sick with colds and flus almost continually since October 2000. I also wake up with swollen hands and red knuckles. I have recently been diagnosed with ocular rosacea. My two-year-old son also has breathing problems, which wake him at night.

We have tried professional cleaning of our furnace and air ducts, HEPA air purifiers, negative ion generators, frequent laundering of bed linens, dust mite barriers for bedding, non-allergenic pillows, etc., to no avail. What is the problem?

It's the lumber mill! We live directly downwind from the lumber mill, which is right in the center of town. I have long believed this is the main cause of our respiratory problems. The smell is obvious, but a few days ago I drove through a cloud of sticky steam and smoke (an open-air,
low-temperature wood burner operates on site). I have been coughing ever since. My husband smelled wood smoke in the house when he woke up today, and there is "fog"(smoke) outside. The furnace has a fresh-air intake, so there is nothing we can do! It's pretty bad when you go outside for a 10-minute walk and return smelling like you've been at a campfire. GG"

Dear Mary,
We have just formed a new air quality Committee. I say new because like so many organizations in this small community people try to accomplish something and then give up because of various reasons. We have lived here for two and half years; There have been editorials in our local paper like "We live in the smokiest valley of B.C. , etc. I will cut to the chase of this email; I have been involved with Town council, Chamber and various "clean up" committees over the past two years. Like so many things, the snail pace that is set by the opposition to seeing the problem has me concerned with my own health and more importantly, the health of my children. Is there a website or direct information you know of for me to access about air purifiers for my home. Is there something on the market that will help/elevate the massive air quality problem we have here. I am getting very worried about the long term health effects on a seven and five years old lungs/body
I would appreciate ANY information and resources you can provide me with. While the "burning issue" is alive and well with me, it will take years for the community to come around. How much damage can be done to ones health in three to five years? In my mind, far too much for me to gamble on.
The Bergs,(Sick and getting sicker) British Columbia, Canada

Mary, thank you so much for your help. I am just at the beginning of litigation with a neighbor who installed an outdoor wood stove (smudge-pot, green wood burner) with hoses going into his home for heat. He has destroyed the quality of air for most of the winter. We live on the edge
of a small town of 2500 with no zoning vis a vis wood stoves. We do have ordinances against barking dogs, so I'm having him cited regularly for noise pollution until we can get at the air pollution. Thank you again for your help; I'll keep you posted,

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