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  • Fireplaces heat up with chilly overnight temperatures

    Nov 22, 2021 | Read More News
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    Candelabra in fireplaceCooler nighttime temperatures and the approaching holiday season mean an increase in fireplace use in many neighborhoods throughout Pima County. If your celebration includes lighting a fire in the fireplace, it may feel comforting, but for some people fireplace smoke can make it very hard to breathe.

    Wood smoke contains tiny particles and toxic pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These can harm people with heart or respiratory disease, babies, young children, pregnant women and those suffering or recovering from COVID-19. According to information provided by the Center for Disease Control, people have or who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at an increased risk of health effects from exposure to wood smoke due to compromised heart and/or lung function related to COVID-19. Pollutants in wood smoke can cause the eyes, nose and throat to burn with irritation, and even cause headaches, nausea and acute bronchitis.

    Walking in neighborhoods where fireplace smoke is heavy may cause an irregular heartbeat, chest pain and shortness of breath in susceptible people. In homes where wood-burning fireplaces are used, smoke can make asthma symptoms worse and cause lung inflammation and pneumonia in young children.

    “In the last several weeks, we are seeing that particulate matter levels are on the rise at air monitoring sites during chilly early morning and evening hours,” said Natalie Shepp, Senior Program Manager with Pima County Department of Environmental Quality. 

    In addition, fireplaces are not very efficient for heating your home. Most homes are not perfectly insulated, so cold air slips in under doors and through cracks as hot air rises and escapes up the chimney. If flues are not properly installed and maintained, particles released during wood burning can escape into the home. The Environmental Protection Agency provides “burn wise” information on their website to help reduce the impacts of wood burning in your home.

    Placing multiple large candles in the firebox may provide a substitute for the flickering flames ambiance you are looking for without the problems associated with burning wood. For those who choose to use the fireplace to burn wood or it is their sole source of heat, PDEQ recommends following these tips to reduce the risk:
    • Have chimneys cleaned seasonally to reduce creosote buildup.
    • Burn hardwoods like oak, mesquite and pecan instead of soft woods like cedar, fir or pine. The wood should be split and dried for at least six months.
    • Use smaller pieces of wood. They burn more efficiently and are a better source of heat.
    • Allow enough room inside the fireplace for air to circulate freely around the wood.
    • Never burn garbage, plastics, painted wood or plywood, charcoal, printed pages in a fireplace. They will release toxic materials into the air.
    • Occasionally, check your chimney from the outside while the fire is going. If you see smoke, your fire is not burning hot enough. Give the fire more air and then check again
    • Check before you light a fire to see if local air pollution levels are elevated. If they are, avoid using the fireplace, if possible. Get current air pollution information at www.pima.gov/deq; and
    Remember... If you can smell smoke, you are breathing smoke!