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  • Cautious Fireplace Use Is Better for the Air

    Nov 18, 2014 | Read More News
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    Chilly temperatures are here and some people will be turning to wood burning to add warmth to their homes. According to the EPA, there are approximately 29 million wood-burning fireplaces or stoves in the United States.  These and other wood-burningFireplace appliances (such as chimineas) contribute to wintertime particle pollution and the brown haze we sometimes see in eastern Pima County. By choosing not to use wood-burning appliances, if you have other heating options, or by burning smarter, we can help keep the air healthier to breathe.

    “Every year, I receive calls from individuals who are affected by fireplace smoke in their neighborhoods,” said Beth Gorman, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality Senior Program Manager. “Sometimes people with respiratory or cardiac problems can’t even walk their dogs or go on walks for exercise because the smoke makes them so sick.” 

    In addition, fireplaces aren’t efficient home heaters. Most homes aren’t perfectly insulated, so while hot air escapes up the chimney, cold air seeps in under doors and through cracks to take its place. Below is information on the health effects of smoke and tips to burn cleaner when using wood-burning appliances.

    Facts about the Health Impacts of Smoke

    • If you smell smoke inside, that’s an alarm that harmful air pollutants are in your home. 
    • Research estimates 70 percent of smoke from chimneys can actually re-enter your home and your neighbor’s home. (Pierson et al 1989.) 
    • Smoke from a wood-burning fireplace or stove contains a mixture of harmful gases and small particles. Breathing in these small particles can cause asthma attacks and severe bronchitis, aggravate heart and lung disease, and may increase the likelihood of respiratory illnesses. Inhaling smoke can also increase the risk of heart attack, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, stroke and early death.
    • Particle pollution exposure can lead to a variety of negative health effects. For example, numerous studies link particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits—and even to early death.
    • People at greater risk from particle pollution such as wood smoke are older adults, children and teens, pregnant women, and people with heart or lung disease and asthma. Research indicates that obesity or diabetes may increase health risks.
    • Some studies also suggest that long-term exposures to small particulate matter may be linked to cancer and to harmful developmental and reproductive effects, such as infant mortality and low birth weight. 

    Tips for Smarter Burning

    • A clean chimney provides good draft for your wood-burning appliance and reduces the risk of a chimney fire. Have your wood-burning appliance and chimney installed by a certified professional and inspected annually.
    • Check before you light a fire to see if local air pollution levels are elevated. If they are, avoid using the fireplace on those days.
    • To help reduce smoke, make sure to burn dry wood that has been split, stacked, covered and stored for at least six months. When two pieces of wood are knocked against each other, if they are dry enough to burn, they’ll sound hollow. 
    • Allow enough room inside the firebox for air to circulate freely around the wood.
    • Check your chimney from the outside after the fire is lit. If you see smoke, your fire is not burning hot enough. Give the fire more air, and then check again. If the wood is not completely dry, it will smoke.
    • Never burn garbage, plastics or pressure-treated wood because they emit toxic fumes and particles.
    • Use clean newspaper or dry kindling to start a fire. Never use gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter or a propane torch to light your fire.
    • Consider using a HEPA filter in the same room as your stove or fireplace. A study from the University of British Columbia indicates that HEPA filters can reduce indoor particle pollution by 60 percent.

    Thanks to the EPA for some of the above information.