Wood smoke and your health

While people have always burned wood, we now know that wood smoke can impact the health of your family and others around you. It contains wood tars, gases, and soot, as well as chemicals like carbon monoxide, dioxins, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and fine particles. 

People who frequently breathe wood smoke are at risk for serious adverse health effects. One source of health problems is the fine particles in wood smoke.

Exposure to wood smoke

Man sitting next to backyard fire Scientists have studied health patterns among people who burn wood in their homes, people who have been exposed to smoke from wildfires, and people who live in developing countries where wood is burned for heat and cooking. 

Short-term exposure to fine particles in the air can aggravate lung disease, trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase the risk of respiratory infections. Scientists have also linked short-term exposures to heart attacks and abnormal heartbeats. Over time, breathing fine particles in the air increases the chances of developing chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, or lung cancer. 

Exposure to wood smoke may also be harmful to respiratory immune responses, leaving people more at risk for infectious lung disease. In high concentrations, wood smoke can permanently damage lung tissue.

Who is at risk?

Young child with inhalerWhen burning wood, it is not only your family and those near the fire who may be exposed, but also neighbors in the surrounding area, some of whom may have underlying health problems. Wood smoke particles are so tiny that they remain suspended for long periods of time and easily penetrate into buildings with incoming cold air. Young children, the elderly, and people with asthma, lung, or heart disease are especially vulnerable to wood smoke in the air.

Stagnant conditions and winter temperature inversions result in wood smoke staying close to the ground, where it can enter neighbors' homes through tiny cracks, open windows, and vents. Wood smoke often settles into low-lying areas, and can become trapped and build up to unusually high concentrations.

If you choose to burn wood, take the time to understand best practices for wood burning.