Burning Issues

Wood smoke is more damaging than tobacco smoke.

While wood smoke is similar to second hand tobacco smoke, research findings indicate that second hand wood smoke has potentially an even greater ability to damage your health and the health of your family and loved ones.

Comparing tobacco smoke (TS) and wood smoke (WS) using electron spin resonance (ESR) reveals something quite startling. TS does damage in the body for 30 seconds after it is inhaled. WS continues to be chemically active and can cause damage to the cells in the body for 20 minutes or 40 times longer (Pryor, 1992). What does that mean? Some of the components in WS are atoms or molecules in need of at least one unpaired electron to become stable compounds. They are called free radicals. Free radicals interact with your body. They borrow these electrons from the body, leaving body cells unstable - or injured if you will. Some of the cells then die. Other cells are altered and will function differently. The cells give off by products of inflammation that causes a stress on the body. The lungs have an active-transport system that absorbs foreign bodies that are deeply imbedded and cannot be coughed or sneezed up. It pulls the particles into the blood stream for elimination. Inflammation in one part of the body can cause disease in another. Free radicals play a role in a large number of diseases and pathological states. As examples, cancer, aging, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and Lou Gehrig's disease all have a free radical component to their mechanism of injury. The use of free radical modulators in the prevention and treatment of these diseases is under close investigation at this time including clinical trials.

What is the fate of the asbestos-sized, iron coated and or toxic-loaded particles of wood soot and the combustion gases? The WS micro particles "angular and pointed nature distinguished them from usual carbon pigments". They are not going to just 'go away" as wood is primarily cellulose, an insoluble long chain polymer, consisting of 3000 to 5000 glucose residues. Man lacks the enzyme cellulase needed to digest it. How you are personally affected by smoke pollution will depend on more than your age and your genetic make up (or genotype). It will depend on your phenotype. Phenotype is the entire physical, biochemical, and physiological makeup of an individual as determined both genetically and environmentally. In other words, each of us is the sum of our experience. Genetic changes do not just change down through generations (McClintock, 1951), but can occur horizontally (that is, within an organism) and spontaneously. Wood Smoke can alter your DNA.

Additional injury occurs due to the physical aspect of the tiny dagger like particles deposited in the respiratory tubes and lung (Ramage, 1987). The asbestos sized particles get to the deepest area in the lung and can't get back out. They are inside the lung. They are digested, encapsulated in the body or they may get moved to the lymph nodes where they get gobbled up by the immune system cells and then can be excreted. However this vacuum function is easily overloaded. It may take weeks or years for this clearance to take place or the smoke may simply be moved to other tissues and organs. The smoke particles are in the way of the work of the lung. The tiniest particles can clump together causing embolism in the tiniest veins causing blockage.

Because the lung is a very wet (100% humidity) and warm place, the WS daggers start to swell (Hopke, 1996). Fine particles are like sponges. They become coated with combustion chemicals and also transport molds, bacteria and viruses. Because the wood smoke particle swells up inside of the lung it deposits a larger dose of the toxins and gases from the environment (Hopke, 1996) directly into the blood stream within the nose and lung. The pathway into the body that a chemical takes is dependent on many factors, such as the availability of trace minerals and vitamins and the overload already present from other chemicals. Some of the processes lead to the production of acetaldehyde and chloral hydrate. (Yes! the old Mickey Finn or "knockout" drops.), both of which can cause the toxic brain symptoms seen with Environmental Illness.

A small lung biopsy specimen description from a woman who became ill and disabled heating with a wood stove, reads that it contained: "more than two million black fibers per gram of lung tissue. The black fibers included lathe like and grid like structures and bizarre forms. There were no asbestos fibers identified. It was wood (Ramage et al, 1987)." A small portion of the dagger-like pieces of sub-micron wood fiber taken from her lung were iron coated. Fibrocycstic lung disease is literally cystic spaces and blockage of ducts and overgrowth of fibrous tissue in response to scarring, inflammation and infection caused by particles. In fibrocystic lung disease the scarred lung can weigh three times that of a normal lung putting a larger job on the heart that then becomes enlarged as well. It is also called honeycomb lung. It is seen as a result of asbestos, coal, silica, rock exposure and wood smoke exposure.

A 1993 Mexican study of women with no other exposure to pollution except for cooking over wood tells us "pulmonary arterial hypertension (from wood smoke) appears to be more severe than in other forms of interstitial lung disease and tobacco related disease (Sandoval et al, 1993)." Sandoval reported chronic bronchitis and hyperinflated lungs. 77% of the patients had right ventricular enlargement, 50% had right-sided cardiac failure or respiratory infections with in the previous year. 97% had difficulty breathing with even slight exertion. The x-rays of the lungs showed fibrosis of lung tissue similar to long-standing inorganic dust exposure such as silicosis and coal worker's pneumoconiosis. Some patients were in end stage interstitial lung disease where the little lung sacs were thickened and formed cystic cavities. One patient died during the study of squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) of the lung. Another already had atypical bronchial cells that indicated early lung cancer. According to the American Lung Association 156,000 Americans will die this year from Lung Cancer.

In addition there is long term environmental damage as "Burning 1 kilogram of wood produced as much as 160 micrograms of total dioxins. This result was obtained when various specimens of wood were burned in different stoves. Soot was collected and analyzed by well-designed and documented procedures. Tetrachlorinated, hexachlorinated, heptachlorinated, octachlorinated dioxins were present. The isomers of the dioxins were separated and quantitated. The highly chlorinated dioxins were the major components. In the soot from a series of experiments, their total content ranged from 10 to 167 mg/kg of fuel. The total yields of tetrachlorinated dioxins (TCDDs) ranged from 0.1 to 7.8 mg/kg of fuel."
[Science, Vol. 266 Oct. 21, 1994,T.J. Nestrick and L.L. Lamparski, Anal. Chem. 54, 2292 (1982)].

Mary J. Rozenberg, 2001

Sandoval J, Salas J, Martinez-Guerra ML, Gomez A, Martinez C, Portales A,
Palomar A, Villegas M, Barrios R.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension and cor pulmonale associated with chronic
domestic woodsmoke inhalation.
Chest. 1993 Jan;103(1):12-20.
PMID: 8417864

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