Burning Issues

Introduction: Wood Smoke Particles in the 21st Century

[This slide illustrates one full day in Los Altos, CA. Across the bottom of the slide are the times of the day in military time. That way we can compare morning rush hour with the evening burning of wood. The air deteriorates at night when there is no traffic or industry. This was a Thursday night. Residential wood smoke is a dangerous form of air pollution which is not related to automobiles or industry; in the words of the comic strip character "We have met the enemy and they are us!" ]


By Mary Rozenberg, December, 2001

Wood smoke is a very expensive and growing plague in America and around the world. Tens of thousands of Americans will die suddenly this winter from wood smoke emissions. Due to the pervasive haze of thousands of tons of smoke emitted daily in America, millions of people will suffer major debilitating illness, immune system, heart and lung damage that will undermine their long-term health and finances. Smoke pollution micro-particulate plays a large role in spreading infectious disease by both transporting the bacteria deep into the lung, and by paralyzing the immune system so that it can not defend the body. Winter months of November to February are the times of highest emissions and illness.

Our worldview was changed forever by the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City with the resulting loss of life. The fire, dust and smoke particles have affected the survivors. Forty percent of the surviving firefighters exposed at the WTC are now suffering from lung system damage from this exposure. In addition the spread of Anthrax spore bacteria particles, as a weapon, has struck dread in our hearts. We have all felt helpless at this time in the face of the fury of smoke and bacteria but we have seen the hard lessons about science, physics, how weapon-sized particles act and how deadly they are. How does this relate to wood smoke? Ninety percent of wood smoke is in the weapon-sized range of particles. "A particle is a particle," says Dr. Joe Mauderly, a toxicologist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque.

There is a devastating lack of awareness that wood smoke is a killer and that urban and rural wood smoke exposure is growing every year as population increases. There is deep denial about wood burning and what it actually costs us in loss of life, loss of quality of life and permanent loss of health. The United States has a population of almost 285 million people. Research indicates that again this year 30,000 Americans will die suddenly from wood smoke exposure alone. Since Burning Issues was founded in 1987, 420,000 premature deaths have occurred and yet the problem of particulate pollution from wood burning has continued to be ignored. We are segregated on the basis of health, education, and habits. Concerned citizens and victims are treated with contempt and condescension by all levels of government, special interest health charities, lobby groups and their neighbors who are filling their houses and neighborhoods with smoke.

The scope of this web site is to provide research on many different aspects of the growing wood smoke problem and is written to educate the general population. The spheres of separate knowledge have allowed unempirically founded knowledge to be disseminated by government and special interest groups. Our good minds need to come together to fight the wood smoke plague. Information includes technical and exposure information, including a defense of the above numbers. It explores the systems of the human body and shows how wood smoke upsets these functions. We will look at economics and the current state of legal protection from smoke. We must look at denial as well as precautions. An extensive list of references will show that this web site is in no way complete. To present the science of smoke concisely we will concentrate on The San Francisco Bay Area in California as a sample air shed, since we have a great deal of scientific information on this area. We will include other communities for which we have data. Please keep in mind that smoke is smoke and its behavior is governed by its physical properties whether in San Francisco or Mozambique. Our research shows that there is a remarkable similarity in pollution patterns wherever solid fuel is burned. By covering this one area well, we learn those patterns. Wood smoke is sneaky. It is a trickster that creeps and seeps around in the night, into the air around and inside your home. We are attempting here to expose its 'modus operandi'. We never voted for a smoke filled 21st Century, but that is what we have. If we don't act now smoke is what we have to look forward to.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Burning Issues
Box 1045
Point Arena CA 95468
Tel: 707-882-3601
Email: [pm10mary at mcn dot org]

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