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Published on Nov 22, 2016
Many people burn wood in their homes for heat and ambience during the cold months. The smell of burning wood is pleasant to some people, but even though wood is a natural substance, exposure to wood smoke can be hazardous to one’s health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter or PM). In addition to particle pollution, wood smoke contains several toxic harmful air pollutants including: benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Carbon monoxide is also produced during the burning of wood.
These substances and microscopic particles can get into the eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems. The EPA states that short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) from wood smoke can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Long-term exposures (months or years) have been associated with problems such as reduced lung function and the development of chronic bronchitis, and even premature death. Some studies also suggest that long-term PM 2.5 exposures may be linked to cancer and to harmful developmental and reproductive effects, such as infant mortality and low birth weight.
The EPA reports that wood smoke can affect everyone, but children, teenagers, older adults, people with lung diseases, including asthma and COPD, or people with heart diseases are the most vulnerable. Research indicates that obesity or diabetes may also increase risk.
These are just a few things to know about wood smoke exposure and your health. To learn more about this or other air quality, environmental, health, safety or occupational issues, please visit the websites shown below.