Fall is bonfire time, and many of us love backyard fires. But recent air quality alerts caused by smoke from distant forest fires remind us that there’s a hidden cost to backyard burning.
Among other pollutants, burning wood produces particles so small (less than 2.5 microns in width, called PM2.5) that they are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. They end up deep in the lungs, causing damage. They can even pass from your lungs into your bloodstream.
Short-term exposure (hours or days) to fine particles in the air can make lung disease worse, and trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis. And there are other harmful substances in wood smoke, some of which are also found in cigarette smoke and can cause cancer.
If you choose to burn wood, here are some steps you can take to cut the amount of smoke and harmful fine particles:
- Don’t burn on days when an air quality alert has been issued by the MPCA.
- Burn only dry, seasoned wood. It burns cleaner, with less smoke, and generates more heat. (The U.S. EPA has more information on proper firewood drying and storage.)
- Consider switching to a natural-gas or propane firepit. These don’t produce harmful particles in large quantities.