Those who suffer from such pollution are in the same situation as before the asbestos scandals. The politicians were also telling them: "we can’t do anything, even if it has been the demonstrated that asbestos is carcinogenic, because no law forbids it."
Asbestos has been banned in the (most) developed countries since the 80ies.
If you can see or smell smoke from your wood heater then you are causing a problem for yourself, your family and your neighbors.
The Australian Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
● This article does not promote a wood-burning prohibition, but a legal framework to reduce their toxicity level to an "acceptable" level. An acceptable level (for our time) would be in the same range as a diesel vehicle or heater. Because wood burning without adequate technology creates more particle pollution: half day near the fire emits as many fine particles as a diesel car traveling 3,500 km. Even an EPA certified stove (USA standard) operating 60 hours emits as much particulate as the motor of a car with an average engine size, traveling 18,000 kilometers.(*) - (*)
●There is no minimum level at which wood smoke could be good or harmless to breathe: the side effects can be experienced after both short and long exposure.(*) One carcinogenic particle in the wrong place at the wrong time can be enough to trigger a carcinogenic mutation that can lead to death several decades after exposure.
● Wood smoke are at least as bad as cigarettes smoke, and probably much worse(*) (this study(*) on mice shows that wood smoke particles are 30 times more carcinogenic than cigarettes). Smoke from a regular firewood contains hundreds of compounds classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, and irritants for the respiratory system-(*)-(*)-(*).
○ The PAHs (Benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons): the NSW DECC Emissions Inventory reports that motor vehicles emit 1833 tons of benzene and 173 tons of PAH in Sydney; wood heaters emit 463 tons of benzene and 69 tons of PAH. With more than 2.86 million registered vehicles in Sydney, but only 0.106 million wood heaters, the average wood-heater emits 7 times as much benzene and 11 times as much PAH in Sydney as the average vehicle.
PAH in wood vs cigarette smoke: PAH are the best-known toxins in both cigarette and wood smoke. The U.S. EPA has designated 16 PAH compounds as priority pollutants. Five of these chemicals are in cigarette smoke. However, all 16 PAH are in eucalypt smoke - you would have to smoke 16,000 - 222,000 cigarettes to produce the equivalent amount of PAH as burning 1 kg firewood in a correctly operated heater. Most wood heaters burn about 30 kg wood per day, so, a typical correctly operated wood heater used for 1 day produces as many PAH as in the smoke of 0.5 - 7 millions of cigarettes. Read more.
Wood burning vs traffic pollution: wood smoke has 150 times more PAH and has a higher mutagenic potential (cf Table 2) than diesel exhaust particulates. Another study confirmed this result. Recently, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) published statistics showing that “particulate matter from log burning in cities is more dangerous than pollution from traffic”. Research by Statistics Norway (SSB), meanwhile, concluded that 61% of the particulate matter in Norway’s air stems from its 1.7 million existing log fires, compared to 39% from private vehicles, buses and lorries.
○The PAHC or dioxin (chlorinated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are part of the organochlorine family. They are in the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) family as well as pesticides or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Dioxins one of the most toxic and hazardous pollutants we know. Dioxins produced during the combustion of wood (such as TCDD or "Seveso dioxin") are classified as extremely carcinogenic (ARC Group 1) for humans (lung cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma...). These molecules accumulate in the food chain and are also associated with birth defects, fetal toxicity, impaired development of the child, endocrine disorders…
A 12-month study of 6 sites in Australia covering industrial and residential sites showed the concentration of dioxins were close to zero in industrial sites, except when wood stoves were used. The concentration of these pollutants were up to 10 times higher during the wood heating season (see Fig.3 in Gras et Müller, 2005).
○ The particulate matters (PM10, 5, 2.5 and 1): The NSW Government's “Action for Air” (2009) acknowledges PM2.5 are particularly dangerous: “Health research identifies particles of less than 2.5 micrograms (PM2.5) as a particular concern because their smaller size means they can be inhaled deeper into the lungs, and because there is no safe threshold level to use for setting standards.” PM2.5 – most closely linked to health problems: "Any reduction in exposure to particle pollution will have public health benefits. The health cost of particles air pollution in the NSW Greater Metropolitan is estimated to be around $4.7 billion per year (NSW DEC 2005; Jalaludin et al. 2011). The greatest proportion (>99%) of the health costs accrue from avoiding premature deaths due to long-term exposure to PM2.5." Source: Draft variation to the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure, page xi, Executive Summary, published July 2014. More
● Three independent US long-term cohort studies found significant relationships between PM2.5 and cardiopulmonary mortality (*)-(*)-(*). The largest involved 500,000 subjects and 120,000 deaths and showed that a 10 µgm-3 increase in annual PM2.5 exposure increases cardiopulmonary mortality by 6–9% and lung cancer mortality by 8–14%.
● Most of the particles generated by burning wood are smaller than a micron: this size is considered extremely dangerous for our lungs. These particles are so fine that they escape our muco-ciliary defenses and can go directly into the bloodstream, which poses a risk to the heart. The size of the particles that they also resist gravitational settling phenomena, and could remain in the air for weeks after extinguishing the fire.(*)
● Children who live in homes with active fireplaces or wood stoves, or in areas where wood burning is common, suffer from a higher incidence of asthma and cough(*), bronchitis(*), ear infections, infections of the upper respiratory tract and impaired lung function(*). In adults, burning wood is associated with more frequent visits to emergency rooms and hospital admissions for respiratory diseases with increased mortality from heart attacks(*).The inhalation of wood smoke, even at relatively low levels, alters pulmonary immune function, leading to increased susceptibility to colds, flu and other respiratory infections. This affects disproportionately the children and the elderly. Pollution of indoor air related to wood burning is also linked to higher risk of low birth weight and stillbirth.(*)
● Since no serious legislation regulates wood burning (fireplace, in the summer and barbecue), and wood burning are much more common in the villages, the number of carcinogens particles floating in the air in the villages' streets bordering the smoking chimneys often exceeds that of large cities. Cancer risks (among others) caused by chimney smoke are thus as important in the countryside as in the cities.(*) Annual exposure to PM2.5 pollution in Armidale (a small town of 22,000 people, New South Wales, Australia) from wood smoke is more than double that from all sources in Sydney, a city of 4 million.(*) The estimates of 6% increased mortality for each additional 10 μg m−3 of PM2.5 suggests that wood heaters in Armidale may increase mortality in Armidale by about 7%, with estimated cost of about $4270 per wood heater per year. Short-term exposure was estimated to cause and additional 750 visits to GPs for respiratory complaints
● The fires are also responsible for an increase in air pollution inside the apartments. The particles moved even in rooms that are not under the direct influence of the home, and they persist long after the shutdown of the combustion device.(*)
● Once they left the fire, toxic gases (benzene, for example) and the particles that make up smoke pass freely in the house and neighboring houses. (Nearly 70% of the fumes enters inside the neighboring buildings(*)).
● Wood burning without adequate technology is an extremely dirty source of energy since it does not allow efficient heating and generates more toxic emissions than gas or even oil. (The use of appropriate technology increases the efficiency and reduces partly particulate emissions). Wood heating is responsible for 84% of PM 2.5 emissions while representing only 5% of all fuel used for home heating... Natural gas, which accounts for 80% of the fuels residential heating, emits less than 3%. Wood fires contribute about 23% to the total emissions of PM10 around Paris (Île-de-France), so they emit the same quantities of particles as the exhaust from road vehicles.(*)
●The air pollution causes 7 million deaths each year.(*) 100,000 deaths and 725,000 years of life lost per year are attributable to exposure to fine particles.(*) (The two main causes are diesels and wood burning).
Let's regulate the wood fires in residential areas,
○ because the one person's freedom ends where another's begins, and because this is not only about freedom, but the health of everyone.
○ because taking care of the air we all breathe should not be an option but an obligation.
○ because the air should not be treated as a trash.
Want to do something for those who suffer the most from this pollution? You could sign this petition (This petition asks the French government for a rational regulation of wood burning).
You can contribute by proposing new studies and quotes (based on research), and reporting errors and studies that have been refuted.
● The World Health Organization report (based on 113 independent studies):
○ In brief: Household air pollution
● The Australian Environment Protection Authority: Reducing wood smoke emissions
In the media
Follow the last news about woodburning pollution (studies, media, events...)
Wood smoke is natural, so it must be okay. Myths & Facts. And why Your Neighbor’s Wood Smoke is Killing You. (Families for Clean Air)
The Fireplace Delusion (Sam Harris)
Regulations in the world
● Denmark: Since January 2015, the emissions are strictly controlled throughout the country. Municipalities have the power to increase even more the restrictions in specific places (near schools, retirement homes, etc.)
● UK: the smokes are prohibited or controlled in some parts of UK. Those who care about their health (hygiene) can therefore move to these areas.
● Canada : in Quebec, it is prohibited to manufacture or sale of wood heaters which don't comply with the environmental regulation. Obligation to register wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in Montreal ($500 fine). Starting in 2018, wood-burning appliances will be banned unless they meet the rigorous new emission standards of 2.5 grams of fine particles or less per hour.For many years now, Montreal has conducted public awareness campaigns on wood-burning best practices. Unfortunately, no air quality improvement had been observed. In contrast, since the installation of new log-burning heaters was banned in 2009, the number of smoggy days in winter (where PM2.5 concentrations exceed 35 μg/m3 for more than 3 hours over 75% of Montréal) fell from 29 in 2009 to 10 in 2013.
● USA : some states do not allow non-certified devices, and prohibit wood burning on specific days (No Burn Days). California’s Healthy Hearths Programbans all wood-burning devices in new buildings and also bans use of all wood-burning devices whenever PM2.5 pollution is forecast to exceed the air quality standard. Wood smoke opacity is also regulated in many states.
● Australia: no regulation, but the new regulations should take effect in July 2016
● New Zealand: in some areas, wood burners have been forbidden in new houses since some studies showed that the areas with the highest levels of wood smoke had 68% more respiratory deaths, 22% more circulatory deaths and 16% more total deaths. Christchurch banned the use of old wood burners (over 15 years old). Otago restricted the use of some wood burners since January 2012 and impose the use of clean ones. The numerous prevention campaigns have raised awareness among the citizens about the dangers. It is possible to denounce the smoking chimneys to some associations which will visit these pollutant homes and teach them how to make fire more respectful of those around them.
● Ireland: Dublin banned smoky home heating. There was 15.5% fewer respiratory and 10.3% fewer cardiovascular deaths (2,000 fewer deaths) in the 6 years after the ban on non-smokeless coal in September 1990. In 2013, 986 inspections were carried out by the EPA under the smoky coal ban and more than 100 enforcement actions were initiated.
● Netherlands: cf. the comment below.
● Norway : an exciting initiative from the newly established organization FriskBy. FriskBy plans to engage students from several high schools in Bergen to build, deploy and monitor more than 200 measuring sensors for air quality. According to the newspaper, these sensors will be placed at different locations around the city.
● France: no regulation.
This list is not exhaustive, you could help us to complete or update it by using the comment below.
You will find more on woodsmoke.3sc.net
Communities struggling with this issue and requesting wood burning regulation
Some studies demonstrating the toxicity of wood smoke
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