Wood Burning

 

Wood that is burnt inefficiently produces smoke that is not only wasted heat, but also a significant source of pollution.  Given our sensitive airshed in the Fraser Valley, it is particularly important that we all do our part to reduce air pollution.  If you use a wood burning stove, then please take a few minutes to learn more about wood burning. 

 

Health and Environmental Factors

 

Burning wood can release pollutants into the air we breathe when poor burning techniques are used.  Wood smoke contains harmful pollutants that can trigger coughs, headaches and eye and throat irritation.  Environment Canada and Health Canada have identified many hazardous chemical substances in wood smoke, including, but not limited to:

 

  • PM10 (inhalable particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter) – PM10 has been declared a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.  PM10 can be inhaled deep into the lungs, leading to serious respiratory problems, which can result in premature death, hospital admissions from respiratory causes and increased respiratory symptoms.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) – CO can reduce the blood’s ability to supply necessary oxygen to the body’s tissues, which can cause stress to the heart.  When inhaled at high levels, CO may cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and disorientation and, at very high levels, lead to unconsciousness and death. 
  • Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) – NOx can lower the resistance to lung infections.  In particular, nitrogen dioxide can cause shortness of breath and irritate the upper airways, especially in people with lung diseases such as emphysema and asthma.
  • Hydrocarbons (HC) – HC can damage the lungs.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – VOCs can cause respiratory irritation and illness.  Some VOCs emitted by wood burning appliances, such as benzene, are known to be carcinogenic.
  • Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde can cause coughing, headaches and eye irritation and can act as a trigger for people with asthma.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – Prolonged exposure to PAHs is believed to pose a cancer risk.
  • Dioxins and furans – Some dioxins and furans are carcinogenic.
  • Acrolein – Acrolein can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation.

Reducing Pollution

 

The easiest way to reduce wood burning pollution is to avoid burning wood whenever possible. 

 

Indoor Burning - If you rely on wood burning to heat your home, then there are a number of steps you can take to reduce wood burning pollution:

 

  • Replace your older wood burner with a new-technology appliance that meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) emissions standards.  New certified appliances can help reduce the emissions of pollutants by up to 90 percent and are also more efficient at heating your home.  With a new certified wood burner, you can reduce the amount of wood you burn by up to one third, which means savings in labour and costs. 
  • Burn small, hot fires.
  • Burn seasoned wood, avoiding green or wet wood.  Firewood should be seasoned for at least six months.
  • Split wood into pieces that are 10-15 cm (4-6 in) in diameter.  Fires burn better with more surface area exposed to the flame.
  • Never burn garbage, plastics, cardboard or Styrofoam.  Burning garbage releases poisons.
  • Never burn treated or painted wood, particleboard or plywood as it represents a health hazard by releasing toxic chemicals.
  • Reduce your heating needs by making your house more energy efficient.

Outdoor Burning - See the Open Air Burning section of the website for more information.