State warns of pollution from residential wood-burning

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is encouraging residents to protect their health and that of their neighbors by limiting their exposure to pollution created from improperly burning wood.

As temperatures drop, many homeowners are starting the first fires of the winter season, in fireplaces or fire pits outdoors, resulting in wood smoke. Residential wood smoke, a complex mixture of gases and particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn, is a main contributor of fine particle pollution. It is responsible for poor air quality days in many areas across the state and can have severe health impacts, DEEP said in a news release.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that exposure to fine particle pollution resulting from wood smoke can lead to a variety of health effects particularly affecting those with lung disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease. Children, teenagers, older adults and new or expectant mothers may want to take precautions and limit their exposure to protect their health and the health of their babies, DEEP said.

According to the EPA, particle pollution can trigger asthma attacks, impair lung development in children, increase symptoms of COPD and cause coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. For people with heart disease, particle pollution is linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure and stroke.

Because exposure to fine particle pollution from the burning of wood can lead to a variety of health effects, DEEP recommends the following “best burn” tips to reduce wood smoke pollution:

• Burn dry, seasoned wood to reduce particle pollution. Softwoods such as Douglas fir need six months to dry and hardwoods such as oak need at least 12 months. Garbage, plastic, treated lumber, and driftwood should never be burned because they emit toxic fumes and particles.

• Buy an inexpensive moisture meter to test the wetness of wood before burning. Wood should be burned only if the moisture content is 20 percent or less.

• Newer, EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplace inserts (wood stoves designed to fit into a fireplace), reduce air pollutants by 70 percent compared to older models. Additionally, EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplace inserts are up to 50 percent more energy efficient, use one-third less wood for the same heat, and reduce the risk of fire by reducing creosote build-up in chimneys compared to older models.

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