What are the health impacts of forest fires?


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  1. John Van Aerde

    Horrible experiences for our citizens in BC, and last year in AB. It is not just wildfires that contribute to COPD and cardiovascular issues in BC. Wood burning is one of the big polluters in BC, both from wood stoves and outdoor burning. Off course, the level of pollution from the wildfires is much higher on a shorter term than wood burning which results in lower levels of PM2.5 (and other particles) than wildfires, but the exposure is continuous over an entire lifetime for the citizens who live in those areas. Little to no legislature to protect citizens. We can do little about the wildfires, but we can decrease or eliminate the chronic exposure to these pollutants affecting the health of all of us. Thank you for this article.

  2. Bill Lewin

    Living beside a home that heats with wood is as bad as any forest fire pollution and can last as long as 7 months of non stop high emissions harming health and climate
    Air Pollution Levels can be 100 times higher for neighbours of wood burners then for others in the same community!

  3. Dr. Brian Moench

    This article mentions some, but hardly all of the health consequences of wild fire smoke. Domestic burning of wood for heat is just as serious a problem, if not worse, because people who burn wood are exposing themselves and others to an entire winter of that pollution, an even longer time than a summer filled with forest fires. Below are 18 reasons why wood burning should be banned in all urban areas, from Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution.

    1.  All air pollution is not created equal.  Wood smoke is the most toxic type of  pollution in most cities,  more dangerous than auto pollution and most industrial pollution.  Lighting a wood fire in your house is like starting up your own mini-toxic waste incinerator.

    2.  Lifetime cancer risk is 12 times greater for wood smoke compared to an equal volume of second hand cigarette smoke.

    3.  Burning 10 lbs. of wood for one hour, releases as much PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) as 35,000 packs of cigarettes.  

    4.  Toxic free-radical chemicals in wood smoke are biologically active 40 times longer than the free radicals in cigarette smoke.

    5.  Wood smoke is the third largest source of dioxins, one of the most intensely toxic compounds known to science.

    6.  The very small size of wood particles make them seven times more likely to be inhaled than other particulate pollution.

    7.  Wood smoke easily penetrates homes of neighbors creating concentrations up to 88% as high as outdoor air.  

    8.  If you smell wood smoke, you know you are being harmed.  The sweet smell comes from deadly compounds like benzene. Once you can smell the smoke you know the concentration of particulate matter is dangerously high. 

    9.  The most dangerous components of air pollution are much higher inside homes that burn wood than non-burners, as much as 500% higher. The characterization of a wood burning ban “punishing the little people” is easily undermined because a ban would actually benefit the burners themselves more than anyone else, especially their own children

    10.  Considering the most dangerous part of particulate pollution, wood burning produces as much overall as all our cars during the winter.

    11. We require emissions testing of all our cars. Great. An average house heated with wood emits about as much winter time pollution as driving between 90-400 cars all winter, but we don’t emissions test wood stoves. Why not?

    12.  The inhalable particulate pollution from one woodstove is equivalent to the amount emitted from 3,000 gas furnaces producing the same amount of heat.

    13.  Emissions from modern combustion appliances for wood logs may increase ten-fold if they are not operated appropriately, and most of them are not.

    14.  Wood smoke is the only pollution emitted right where people spend most of their time.  It disperses poorly, is not evenly distributed and stays in the air longer because of its small size.  Concentrations can be 100 times higher for neighbors of wood burners than what is captured at the nearest monitoring station. Real local “pollution victims” are created even when overall community levels are low.

    15.  If your neighbor is a regular wood burner, and follows all the rules, i.e. doesn’t burn during yellow or red alert days, but does during all “green” days, you can go an entire winter without having one single day of clean air.

    16. According to California’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District, burning wood costs the rest of the community, primarily your next door neighbors, at least $2 in extra medical expenses for every lb of wood that you burn. An average fire then costs your neighbors about $40.

    17.  Long ago most communities passed ordinances protecting people from second hand cigarette smoke. Ironically those laws protect people at places they don’t necessarily have to be (restaurants, stores, buildings, etc). But in the one place they have to be, their home, they have no protection from something even worse—wood smoke. People should have just as much protection from wood smoke as from cigarette smoke and for all the same reasons. We don’t allow people to blow cigarette smoke in your face, why should we allow people to blow wood smoke into your home?

    18. Wood burning is not even close to carbon neutral over the short term, the next few decades, and it is that time frame that will make or break the climate crisis. Burning wood is extremely in inefficient. Per unit of heat created wood produces even more CO2 than the fossil fuels do. Furthermore, the black carbon particulate matter released enhances the absorption of radiant heat in the atmosphere, making global warming worse, and prematurely melts already imperiled mountain snow pack.

  4. Vic Steblin

    Considerate and responsible people who live in crowded places that have cleaner heat like gas have butted out long ago with wood burning. But those who still burn wood have a bad attitude if anyone asks them to stop.

  5. Jennell Ellis

    While short term exposure to wild fire smoke might not create new ‘disease’, a recent study on the link between increased rates of heart attacks and PM2.5 (“Biomass Burning as a Source of Ambient Fine Particulate Air Pollution and Acute Myocardial Infarction”) showed seniors had an increased risk (6%) if they were exposed to even an average of 5 ug/m3 increase in PM2.5 over a few days (keep in mind that Kamloops was experiencing measurements well over 300 ug/m3). These folks did not necessarily have a pre-existing condition (the study didn’t track that I believe). More importantly, the risk of heart attack significantly increased (to 19%) when the PM2.5 came from wood smoke.

    The mild warnings from the Air Quality Health Index during some very high smoke days seemed totally out of whack with what we know about both short- and long-term exposure to wood smoke.

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