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Friday, January 14, 2011

New study shows outdoor wood stoves unhealthy

When I was a kid my parents decided to take the cheapest route home heating and had a wood furnace installed in our basement. This decision might have been good for their pocket books, yet it wreaked havoc on my lungs and therefore my life.

Not only do wood stoves give off smoke that can irritate lungs, but all the wood stacked in the basement was filled with molds and fungus that are known allergens for me and many other chronic lungers. The smoke outside meant I couldn't play out there, and the mold and fungus inside made indoor life equally miserable.

My parents ultimately were told this was bad for me, and there response was to shut off the wood heating ducts to my room and turn on the gas just to heat my room. Yet little did they realize that while this effort was a good gesture, it was frivolous at best.

A new study reported by the Environment and Human Health Inc. as reported here reveals the following about outdoor wood furnaces (OWF):

"Wood smoke contains many of the same toxic compounds that are found in cigarette smoke. Just a few of them include benzene, formaldehyde, and 1,3-butadiene, all three of which are carcinogenic."

In fact, while indoor wood furnaces are a bad enough asthma trigger, "The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) found that the average fine particle emissions from one OWF are equivalent to the emissions from 22 EPA-certified indoor wood stoves, 205 oil furnaces or as many as 8,000 natural gas furnaces."

The study also reported the following (PM stands for particulate matter, which is the particle size of the smoke measured):
  • A house 100 feet from an OWF had 14 times the levels of PM 2.5 as houses not near an outdoor wood furnace and 9 times the levels of the EPA air standards
  • A house 120 feet from an OWF had over 8 times the levels of PM 2.5 as the houses not near an outdoor wood furnace, and 6 times the levels of the EPA air standards.
  • A house 240 feet from OWF had 12 times the levels of PM 2.5 as the houses not near an outdoor wood furnace and 8 times the levels of the EPA air standards
  • A house as far away as 850 feet from OWF had 6 times the levels of PM 2.5 as the houses not near an outdoor wood furnace and 4 times the levels of the EPA air standards.
  • High levels were present in every 24-hour period tested inside homes neighboring outdoor wood furnaces
  • All houses tested had particulate exposures well above the EPA ambient air quality standard.
  • Levels of PM 2.5 that exceed the EPA standards are associated with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) attacks and hospitalizations, and are also associated with increased risk of cardiac attacks.
  • Particles of wood smoke are so small that windows and doors cannot keep smoke out
  • A study by the University of Washington, Seattle, showed that 50 to 70 percent of outdoor wood smoke entered homes that were not burning wood.
  • Because wood smoke particles are so small, they are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs where they can cause structural damage and chemical changes.
  • Carcinogenic chemicals and wood smoke irritants adhere to the small particles and enter the deep, sensitive regions of the lungs where toxic injury is high.
The short term, or "irritable" side effects of inhaling smoke from outdoor wood heaters include:
  • Night time coughing
  • Headaches
  • Inability to catch breath (dyspnea)
  • Burning throat
  • Burning eyes
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Colds
  • Increased respiratory infections (particularly in children)
  • Missed days of work or school
  • Emergency room visits
The long term side effects of inhaling from outdoor wood heaters include:
  • Increased risk for lung cancer
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
In fact experts note that "Even episodes of short-term exposures to extreme levels of fine particulates from wood smoke and other sources, for periods as short as two hours, can produce significant adverse health effects."

The particulates breathed in are not only linked with chronic lung disease but to lung cancer, as evidence shows the smoke inhaled also contains known carcinogens. So short-term exposure may result in either asthma, COPD, and long term exposure to those plus lung cancer.

So smoke from indoor and outdoor wood furnaces have the same known harmful chemicals as cigarette smoke, smoke from outdoor wood stoves is thicker and more prevalent in the air, and is more "pervasive for those who live near them," said Dawn Mays-Hardy of the American Lung Association, New England.

Likewise, "Resident of Environment and Human Health, Inc. Nancy Alderman says, "EHHI has now shown that wood smoke from outdoor wood furnaces enters neighboring houses in high enough amounts to cause serious health impacts to these families. States can no longer ignore this science and should ban outdoor wood furnaces until safer technologies are found."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I bought one of these heat exchangers from and it is Stainless Steel. The rest of the pipes in my house are Copper and some plastic. I get a tremendous amount of heat from this thing and I am worried that it will melt the copper or plastic tubing.The heat coming out of the Chimney Heater is about 190f does anyone know if this is to hot for the copper or Plastic pipes in my House?