Where There’s Smoke, There Might Be Asthma

What you need to know about an HAP, a VOC, and fine particle pollution (or PM, particulate matter) is that all of these things are harmful to your health. An HAP, or hazardous air pollutant, is found in wood smoke – the stuff that puffs from your house when you cozy up to those crackling logs. HAPs contain a group of pollutants called polycyclic organic matter that includes benzo(a)pyrene, which may cause cancer.

Fine particle pollution – ash – can damage lung tissue and lead to serious respiratory problems when taken in high concentrations. But children and the elderly don’t need bunches of this to be affected negatively. Alison Davis, EPA senior advisor, says that particulate matter is a “big health issue,” and links it to heart attacks and aggravated cases of asthma.

A VOC, or volatile organic compound, is also released in wood smoke, which can cause numerous health complications including coughing, difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, an irregular heartbeat, and premature deaths in people suffering from heart or lung diseases.

And there are approximately 11.5 million homes in the United States that use wood for heat. Now is the time to reassess that trusty woodstove, especially since the newer, better and more energy-efficient models are being designed and built. According to the EPA, replacing an old wood stove, fireplace insert, or fireplace with an EPA-certified wood stove or EPA-certified fireplace insert will reduce the amount of wood burned by as much as two-thirds, and will circulate more heat into the home instead of out the flue.

You may even consider installing a wood pellet stove, which uses compressed wood waste and burns these pellets hotter and cleaner. Additionally, burn hardwoods rather than softwoods because the former produces less smoke and more heat energy.

Breathing small particles that are found in wood smoke can cause asthma attacks, severe bronchitis, and aggravate heart and lung disease. It’s that serious. According to “Woodsmoke Health Effects: A Review” (Naeher et al., 2007), “Even though woodsmoke is natural, it is not benign. Indeed, there is a considerable and growing body of epidemiologic and toxicologic evidence that both acute and chronic exposures to woodsmoke in developed country populations, as well as in the developing world, are associated with adverse health impacts.”


About Sarah Cox

Learning and Writing Center Coordinator
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