ALA Cautions against Burning Wood for Heat

The American Lung Association on Sept. 29 warned that the comfort of a roaring fire can be harmful to your health and have a negative impact on both indoor and outdoor air quality. Burning wood emits harmful toxins and fine particles in the air that can worsen breathing problems and lead to heart and lung disease and even early death.

"With energy costs at an all time high, we are concerned about the potential impact the increased reliance on wood burning, particularly the use of wood stoves, might have on both the environment and the families who rely primarily on this method of home heating this winter," said Bernadette Toomey, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.

When possible, the American Lung Association strongly recommends using cleaner, less toxic sources of heat. Converting a wood-burning fireplace or stove to use either natural gas or propane will eliminate exposure to the dangerous toxins wood burning generates including dioxin, arsenic, and formaldehyde.

"Wood stoves manufactured before 1995 should be replaced with one that is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and that meets the stricter standards set by the state of Washington," noted Toomey. "Vented natural gas or certified wood and pellet stoves are suitable replacements, as is installing an electric, natural gas, or propane furnace."

Although both natural gas and propane stoves are much cleaner than their wood-burning alternatives, these devices must be directly vented outside the home to reduce exposure to carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and other emissions produced by these energy sources. Advertising claims suggest otherwise, however the American Lung Association warns that gas and propane stoves can be a threat to any family's health without proper outdoor ventilation.

When building a fire, the American Lung Association urges homeowners to take needed steps to build a cleaner fire to reduce the level of toxic emissions. Burn only100 percent untreated wood or manufactured fireplace logs. Wood should be purchased early in the year and be stored in a covered place for at least six months before use. This will allow the wood sufficient time to dry thoroughly and ultimately will burn more efficiently and will emit less pollution.

The American Lung Association also cautions against burning other materials such as colored paper, plastics, rubber, and trash. These items generate more harmful chemicals, increased pollution, and produce less heat than untreated wood or manufactured fireplace logs.

The American Lung Association also advises homeowners to be mindful of the weather. When air is cold and still, temperature inversions trap wood smoke and other pollutants close to the ground. Wood-burning should be avoided on hazy, windless days and nights.

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