The Pollutants in Wood Smoke
The main pollutants in wood smoke that cause health concerns are:
- Particulate Matter: This is the term for solid or liquid particles found in the air. They can be very small and can travel deep into your lungs, causing respiratory and heart problems.
- Carbon Monoxide: This is a colorless, odorless gas that is poisonous at high levels. It can interfere with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of your body.
- Volatile Organic Compounds: These are a wide range of compounds that usually have no color, taste or smell. Some cause direct health effects, while others contribute to smog.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: These compounds are a health concern because of their potential to cause cancer.
In communities where wood heating is common, wood smoke can be responsible for as much as 25% of the airborne Particulate Matter, 15% of the Volatile Organic Compounds and 10% of the Carbon Monoxide in the atmosphere.
Wood smoke also contains other toxic compounds, including nitrogen oxides and chlorinated dioxins. These can contribute to environmental hazards, such as smog and acid rain.
Health Effects Associated with Wood Smoke
- Exposure to the pollutants in wood smoke can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
- Wood smoke can also make asthma worse, and has been associated with an increase in respiratory problems.
- In large populations where wood smoke is a significant contributor to outdoor air pollution, studies have linked wood smoke to severe health risks, including increased hospital admissions and even premature death.
- In addition, studies of laboratory animals suggest that prolonged exposure to wood smoke may weaken the immune system.
- Existing heart and lung problems.
- Children are also at greater risk because their respiratory systems are still developing, and because they inhale more air due to their higher rates of activity.