Wood smoke can be deadly polluter

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Wood smoke can be deadly polluter

Postby Wilberforce » Tue May 06, 2008 12:26 am

Wood smoke can be deadly polluter
Bridgewater Courier News - Mar 9, 2008
opinion letter


The dangers of second-hand smoke are well documented. Cigarette smoking is largely prohibited at the
present time in public places. The health effects of smoke were too large to be ignored and, therefore,
smoking has been prohibited for public well-being and illness prevention.

However, there remains another menace in the form of smoke that is actually popularly embraced by
many. Wood smoke from fireplaces, wood stoves and outdoor burners is a form of pollution that is often
just as lethal as cigarette smoke, possibly more. Contrary to the image that "the fire is so delightful,"
is the abounding documentation that wood smoke contains harmful chemicals, carbon monoxide,
carcinogens, bacteria and fine particulates. These microscopic particles cannot be filtered out in the
usual way through the nose and upper lungs, "instead they lodge deep in the lung tissue, triggering
chemical damage and structural changes." (Woodsmoke and Your Health, Tulalip Air Quality Program).

In homes where there are wood- burning stoves or fireplaces, the inhabitants, especially the very young
or those with chronic illnesses, frequently develop asthma or other chronic lung diseases
(burningis sues.org). Not only are the fireplaces sources of health risks for the people in the houses, but
the smoke that is emitted from the stacks throughout neighborhoods is also potentially lethal for those
in the surrounding area.

The toxic smoke is particularly dense when natural temperature inversions occur late in the evening or
when the air is damp or still and can poisonously seep into neighbors' houses through the outside walls.
The general public, particularly those who burn wood in their homes and those who live nearby, needs
to be aware of the detrimental potential that wood smoke presents -- especially with the increased use
of stoves and fireplaces during this time of higher home heating costs. We could be paying with our
health and our lives by burning wood in order save money on the high cost of cleaner fuels.

Those who use wood-burning fireplaces or stoves as a primary source of heat out of necessity are at
an extreme disadvantage. Those who burn wood only for esthetic purposes or a cozy atmosphere can
perhaps be categorized as environmental polluters -- or maybe they have been unaware of the dangers.
This message attempts to let people know that the facts are available now and it is imperative that the
information about wood smoke dangers be disseminated to those who are burning and those who are
breathing the fumes. The dangers should no longer be shrugged off and ignored.

Dr. Hen-Vai Wu, who is associated with the Steeplechase Cancer Center at the Somerset Medical Center,
gave a presentation on Lung Cancer and Environmental Pollutants on Jan. 16 of this year. He indicated
that when you can smell the smoke, you are breathing in potential disease-causing pollutants from the
wood-burning fires.

We can also recall the pollutants later discovered at Ground Zero that had far-reaching health effects
on the workers.

Those who burn wood for recreational purposes are being reckless with their own present and future
health, as well as endangering others' rights to clean air. Common sense may not always prevail,
unfortunately. Therefore, local governments and municipal health departments need to be proactive
and take a forward-thinking stance to update local codes in light of the current available information
and should acknowledge the risks by intervening when wood smoke continually pollutes others' property
and houses.

Ignorance of the dangers should no longer be an excuse to maintain the status quo concerning the
right-to-burn. The right to breathe fresh air should supersede recreational burning. Second-hand smoke
is second-hand smoke, regardless of the origination of the source, and wood smoke presents
documented health dangers to anyone breathing in the vicinity of the pollution.

More information about this danger can be found at www.burningissues.org or www.epa.gov/wood
stoves/healtheffects.html or by searching the Internet under the topic of "Wood Smoke Pollution."

Patricia Rydberg lives in Bridgewater.

Wood smoke can be deadly polluter
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