During the colder months, many of us enjoy curling up next to a warm, flickering fire. Yet, burning wood can harm both the environment and your health because of the smoke it produces. Whether you or your neighbours are using wood stoves, fireplaces or other wood-burning appliances, you can be exposed wood smoke and face the health effects.
Wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles and water vapour. It is the fine particles, not visible to the human eye, that get deep into our lungs and bloodstream, posing the main health risk from smoke.
So, next time you think about cozying up to a fire, here are four things you should know:
- Burn wisely:
• check with local authorities for burning rules and regulations, restrictions and any required permits
• check your local air quality conditions or other special air quality statements and avoid burning on days when air pollution levels are high
• maintain stable, hot fire conditions, as smouldering leads to higher levels of smoke
- The condition of the wood you burn and the way you store it matters:
• use dry, seasoned wood
• burn smaller pieces
• let your wood breathe by stacking it loosely in your firebox
- Never burn:
• household garbage or cardboard
• wet, rotted or mouldy wood
• wood that has been painted or chemically treated
• ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board or any wood with glue on or in it
- If you are burning wood, pellets or biomass in your home:
• choose a low-emission stove
• look for appliances that are CSA or US EPA certified
• maintain your stove and have it inspected annually
• clean your chimney and flues annually
• use your damper to allow more airflow when starting a fire, and close the damper when the wood is well charred
Everyone is at risk from the pollutants in wood smoke, but seniors, children and people with existing heart or lung conditions are at greatest risk. The pollutants can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches and eye, nose and throat irritation. They can make asthma and other breathing problems worse and are even linked to hospital admissions and premature death. Running a portable air purifier in your home can help reduce your exposure to particles from wood smoke while indoors.
Find more information about wood smoke at canada.ca/airhealth