Wood smoke and the air we breathe
Even though wood is natural, we need to be careful about burning wood. Burning wood can impact the health of your family and others around you.
Wood smoke is unhealthy, even at low levels, because it contains an abundance of chemicals, many of which are toxic and also found in tobacco smoke. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to both short- and long-term health effects. Exposure to wood smoke is especially harmful to family members or neighbors with respiratory problems, such as asthma or cardiovascular disease. Find out more about the health effects of wood smoke.
What you can do
- Minimize your exposure to smoke. Even an outdoor fire can affect the indoor air quality in your home.
- Be a good neighbor. Always consider those living around you and the direction of the wind.
- Never burn wood during air pollution health alerts.
- Start every season by cleaning and inspecting all indoor wood-burning appliances and chimneys. Look for air leakage, check for proper drafting, and remove the buildup of creosote. Creosote causes more smoke to enter your home and can catch fire.
- Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
- Never burn other materials. Anything other than dry fire wood—green wood, construction waste, paper, plastic, garbage, or yard waste—will create even more smoke and is often very toxic.
- Use only the most efficient appliances. More efficient, more complete combustion produces less air pollution.
Learn about your options before heating with wood. Consider things like your location (city or rural), access to fuel choices, cost, and environmental and health impacts. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel choice than wood in terms of the emissions of fine particles and many other air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and benzene. Though new EPA-certified wood stoves are cleaner than uncertified stoves or fireplaces, they still produce more than 100 times more harmful fine particle pollution than a gas furnace for the same amount of heat.
Learn about your local laws. Many cities have adopted ordinances to restrict backyard recreational fires. If wood smoke is perceived by your city to be a broad or ongoing problem, the city may be interested in adopting an ordinance that specifically addresses wood burning. Some cities in Minnesota have adopted ordinances addressing outdoor wood boilers.
Spread the word
Many people are unaware of the health effects of wood smoke. If you feel frustrated by exposure to wood smoke from someone in your area, give your neighbor a chance to be a good neighbor. You may find that your neighbor is not aware that they are affecting your property or your health. Here are some resources for what to do if you are being affected by a neighbor's wood smoke.
During the summer and fall of 2012 the MPCA and partners surveyed residents of Minnesota to see how much wood they burned. Similar surveys have been done since the 1960’s. They are part of a long term effort to monitor trends in wood burning and harvesting of wood in Minnesota forests.
MPCA staff can provide further information about wood smoke emissions, and other technical assistance if needed. Contact Mike Nelson at 651-757-2122.