Burning wood is a major source of air pollution, and can have negative effects on the environment and human health. Smoke from wood combustion is the leading source of particulate emissions in New Brunswick. In fact, wood burning accounts for over 70% of total Particulate Matter 2.5 in the province, more than any industrial source. These emissions reduce can reduce our ability to breathe and contribute to the formation of smog and haze. Significant exposure to particulate matter 2.5 has also been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks.
Did You Know: Infographics on Wood Smoke & Burning
-Woodsmoke & Your Health Brochure
-Did You Know: Safe Burning Guide
-Did You Know: Wood Burning Facts
-Did You Know: Woodsmoke Pollutants
Wood Smoke and Lung Health
Breathing in wood smoke can cause increased respiratory symptoms, increased hospital admissions, exacerbation of asthma and COPD and decrease your ability to breathe normally. No one is safe from the harmful effects of wood smoke. People with existing respiratory problems are more sensitive to the emissions and may suffer more serious symptoms however otherwise healthy individuals can also be affected.
So what is in wood smoke that is so harmful? There are over 39 different chemicals and pollutants that make up wood smoke. Some of the most significant pollutants include:
PM2.5: Particulate Matter that is less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These microscopic particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs and become trapped in the tissue leading to the development of serious respiratory problems.
Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide reduces the bloods ability to supply oxygen to the body’s tissues which can cause stress to the heart. When breathed in at higher levels, Carbon Monoxide may cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, confusion and disorientation. At very high levels, Carbon Monoxide can lead to unconsciousness and death. For this reason, Fire Prevention Canada advises CO detectors be installed in every home or building that has a combustion appliance.
Nitrogen Oxides: Nitrogen Oxides can lower your resistance to lung infections. They can also cause irritation to the upper airways leading to shortness of breath especially in people with lung diseases such as asthma and emphysema.
Sulphur Dioxide: Sulphur Dioxide causes the inflammation in the airways, leading to a decreased ability to breathe.
Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde can trigger asthma exacerbations and cause coughing, headaches and eye irritation.
Safe Burning Practices
The New Brunswick Lung Association recommends you do not burn wood. However, if you must burn wood, follow these guidelines for a cleaner fire:
•Keep the fire small: Burn only small, hot fires—they produce much less smoke than ones that are left to smoulder. Having small splits that are approximately 10-15 cm in diameter will help keep the fire hot, wood burns better when there is more surface area exposed to the flame.
•Burn Only: Clean, dry firewood that has been properly seasoned and cut into small splits.
•Never Burn: Treated or painted wood of any kind, particleboard or plywood, glossy magazines, plastics or household waste. Burning these materials can release additional toxic chemicals that are harmful to our health and the environment.
•Let the air in: In a wood stove, make sure the air inlet is open wide enough so there is enough oxygen to allow for complete combustion.
•Invest in a new wood stove
Purchase a high efficiency wood stove that is certified as “low emission” by the US EPA. Doing so will greatly reduce the amount of emissions and also save you money by burning wood more efficiently.
In general, anytime you light a fire outdoors, you are open burning. To be precise, open burning is the burning of organic material to dispose of gardening, agricultural, and land development debris; to remove residue and slash in the forestry industry; to dispose of sawmill waste; to prevent wildfires; to clear grazing range; and for recreational uses (camp fires etc.).
The problem with open burning is that the smoke produced from burning contains numerous pollutants that can trigger health problems, as well as contribute to reduced visibility.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to reduce the amount of organic material that is burned. For example, wood residue can be used as chips for pulp and fiberboard mills, feedstock to generate energy, or compost and mulch material.
Many municipalities require permits to allow burns in restricted seasons, while others prohibit open burning altogether. For information on permits, and what you can and cannot burn in New Brunswick, visit the New Brunswick Department of Environment website.
The lung association recommends you do not have outside fires, however, if you do there are ways to ensure you are burning as safe as possible. Check out our newsletter article on how to burn a safe campfire.
Residential Wood Burning
Burning wood, whether in a wood stove or a fire place, releases a variety of pollutants into the air we breathe. Poor burning methods and inefficient wood burning appliances make the problem even worse.
Smoke coming from your chimney can not only affect your health but also your neighbours and the surrounding environment. People with pre-existing respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD and emphysema are especially sensitive to wood smoke emissions. Therefore, especially within city/town limits, it is important to be mindful of how you are burning your fire, as it is your health and others that is at risk.
The Lung Association recommends you do not use a wood stove. However, if this your only source of heat during the winter months, be sure to check out our newsletter article on how to burn a safer, cleaner fire in your wood stove or fireplace.