LTE: Wood Smoke

There is no such thing as safe wood smoke in a residential area. I cannot imagine that, because someone says that an indoor fireplace chimney is higher than the one on an OWB, that people with any sense of reality would believe that.

Poor air quality and pollution is a serious problem that requires the cooperation and effort of everyone. Just one important contributor to air pollution is often ignored. Residential wood burning produces fine particles and gases that contain a multitude of toxic substances and carcinogens.

Wood smoke is chemically active in the body 40 times longer than tobacco smoke and contains 12 times the amount of carcinogens and is more likely to cause cancer than the same amount of tobacco smoke, according to J. Lewtas-USEPA.

Fireplaces are ineffective in heating a home, and only a few hours of wood burning in a single home can drastically raise fine particle concentrations in dozens of surrounding homes throughout the neighborhood. None of us are protected from this toxic smoke.

Burning wood and allowing it to foul the air of your neighbors is a rude and unnecessary assault on their senses. It causes many people, especially the young, the elderly and those with respiratory problems to be put in great physical danger.

I’ve had people tell me that they believe wood burning is safe as our forefathers heated that way. My response to them is that our forefathers had no other options. Also, many of them died at a very early age of ‘undetermined’ causes. Today, we know that some of those premature deaths most likely were from inhaling particulate matter, leading to various conditions that can result in death.

Burning wood is a costly and filthy affronted to all who are invaded by it. Exposure to the smoke is extremely uncomfortable and causes burning eyes, dry and sore throat, irritation of the nasal passages, cardiovascular system damage, causes some types of cancer and brain damage, headaches, and allergic reactions, among other symptoms.

When smoke is prevalent in the area, people cannot open their windows for fresh air, because there is none. They cannot enjoy their own property due to the stench. Everyone should be able to relax in their own homes without the fear that they are being contaminated by toxic smoke. It is an environmental right of all people.

I can tell you first-hand what it is like when one is forced to deal with a smoke issue, as I have lived through it. Our ordeal began in 2002, when a neighbor began using a wood stove. We finally were forced from our home, by the smoke, for nearly 8 months. We now have an Interlocutory Injunction that was obtained in May of 2005, after which we returned home to begin the cleanup and sanitization of the entire house. It’s an expensive and exhausting mission.

I can tell you that the stench permeates your entire home, your clothing, your hair, and you can even taste it. Exposure to the smoke was extremely uncomfortable and caused burning eyes, dry throat, irritation of the nasal passages and headaches. When the smoke stopped, so did the symptoms.

There was no relief by opening windows because the acrid smells were like a fog covering our house. Buying expensive air cleaners did nothing to remove the odors.

There was no enjoying the deck and yard as long as the wood burning stove was in operation.

We were fortunate enough to have the means to seek legal help. There were no authorities that were of any help in getting the smoke stopped. What would happen to those that cannot afford legal help?
Would they be forced to move out of their homes? Could they afford to do that? Would they be able to sell their home when a potential buyer saw or smelled the smoke? Or, would they have to remain in their homes with their children and become sick? It’s a thought that is very disturbing to me.

I think it is high time that all municipalities give some thought to banning all wood burning in residential areas. Some have already begun to do just that! I fail to see how the public interest is served by permitting the unnecessary fouling of the air we all have the need to breathe.

Please do all you can to prevent environmental and health problems for everyone today and for future generations. There are many people currently dealing with wood burners that just will not stop burning until taken to court. This is a lengthy and expensive procedure that punishes, even further, the innocent victim of the wood smoke who has been suffering for some time already with the loss of the enjoyment of their property and the health effects of the smoke that filters into their home.

Wood smoke emits over 9600 percent more lead than natural gas, and considerably more mercury and other toxicants. If more people knew that these toxics and even arsenic is in wood smoke, they might think twice before lighting the match.

If laws were in place to ban wood burning the world would be a healthier place for all of us!

For more information, please go to and

Shirley Brandie
Canadian Regional Director Clean Air Revival, Inc.

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