ph feu mdl All I Want for Christmas is Fresh Air…

The holidays are nearly here and for many it seems like the perfect time to have a cozy fire. Unfortunately, the resulting wood smoke means that Sea-to-Sky corridor communities often see a spike in air contaminants at this time of year, which is problematic for a number of reasons.

Breathing smoke from wood burning, which contains a mix of gases and fine particles (known as particulate matter or PM), is not good for your health. Even short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) can have harmful effects including irritation of the eyes, nose and lungs, which can trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Long-term exposures (months or years) have been associated with reduced lung function and the development of chronic bronchitis—and even premature death. Additionally, some of the chemicals contained in wood smoke, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin- also found in cigarette smoke- are known or suspected carcinogens. Children, seniors and individuals with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to the effects of wood smoke. Research also indicates that obesity or diabetes may also increase risk. New or expectant mothers may also be at increased risk (EPA, http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/wood-smoke-and-your-health#environmental).

Residential wood burning also produces numerous other pollutants such as mercury, carbon monoxide, greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides that are harmful to the environment and / or contribute to climate change. For instance, VOCs react with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone and with water vapor to form acid rain.

Finally, smoke from wood burning compromises visibility and damages the aesthetic value of our community and region, for visitors and residents alike.

So why do we continue to light up? For many of us, smoke smells good and reminds us of seasonal traditions growing up. Today, we know more about the health effects of wood smoke. We also have the knowledge and technology for doing it better. If you must have a fire this holiday season, here are some tips for doing it with as little smoke as possible:

1. Burn only seasoned wood, with a moisture content of 20% or less. This will make for a cleaner burning,
more efficient fire, that burns hotter with little to no smoke.

2. Only burn, clean untreated wood. Never burn wrapping paper, plastics or garbage which can contain lead, synthetic inks, plastic film, chlorine or metal-based foils, which release toxic and carcinogenic compounds into the air when burned.

3. Never burn driftwood, which releases polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs). which are carcinogenic due to the chlorine content in the salt. 

4. Make sure your wood burning appliance and chimney are clean and well maintained. Doing so will reduce the risk of chimney fires.

5. Use an EPA or CSA certified wood stove or wood burning appliance, which is farm more efficient than older uncertified models.

Give the gift of clean air this season. It’s one we can all enjoy!