With the winter weather still going strong, lots of people will be restocking the wood pile next to their fireplaces and wood burning stoves. Can using a wood burning stove or fireplace pose a threat to my health?
The health impacts of wood burning have received increased attention from the scientific community in recent years. The recent research activity has focused on the role of wood burning in air pollution, its potential health effects and measures to control the negative impacts. Wood burning is used in a variety of settings including homes, schools and industrial settings around the world. It has been used for a variety of purposes, including generating power, heating, cooking and for recreational purposes. The use of wood has increased in the United States for a variety of reasons, including economic factors and efforts to decrease dependence on oil.
When wood burns it releases a complex mixture of chemicals, including gases and particles. The exact nature of the chemicals released varies depending on a number of factors, including what type of wood is burned, if the wood has been treated and how it is burned. Exposures in particularly susceptible populations, including pregnant women, children or individuals with pre-existing lung or heart disease, are of particular concern.
Scientific studies have included research involving exposing humans to controlled exposures to chemicals released during wood burning. During these studies, changes related to inflammation in the body, including the lungs, were seen. In addition, many studies have looked into the health effects from air pollution released from wood burning. Effects observed have included irritation effects (such as eye irritation), small birth weight in babies, increased ear infections and lung inflammation/decreased lung function. Exposures in particularly susceptible populations, including pregnant women, children or individuals with pre-existing lung or heart disease, are of particular concern.
A number of government efforts have been developed to attempt to decrease the negative impacts of wood burning. For example, programs have been set up to encourage users to switch to newer and more efficient wood burning stoves, to use HEPA filters and/or to switch from wood burning to electricity as a power and heating source. However, wood burning remains relatively unregulated, especially compared to other sources of pollution such as cars. For an example of how outdoor wood burners can impact your neighbors, please view a report written by the nonprofit group Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA).
So, it is important for parents to be aware of the potential for health effects from wood burning exposure at home, in schools (such as where wood is used as a heating source) or in the community. Parents should engage in discussions with their children's' healthcare providers and review information from available resources, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), including the resources listed below. For example, the USEPA recommends burning dry and seasoned wood that has been stored and covered and using cleaner burning stoves.
US Environmental Protection Agency