The pages in this section include information on what’s in wood smoke, how it harms our health, and how those harms to health ultimately cost us, both as individuals and as a society.
Air pollution is the largest environmental health threat, contributing to the premature deaths of millions of people worldwide. Of particular concern is fine particle pollution, PM2.5, which has been linked in numerous studies with serious health outcomes and premature deaths, even at low levels that meet current regulatory guidelines. Wood smoke is a potent source of PM2.5 and other toxic air pollutants.
Natural, but Harmful
When many people think about air pollution, industrial smokestacks and traffic are what come to mind. Because wood smoke is natural, some people find it hard to believe it could be so harmful. But being natural doesn’t necessarily mean that something is healthy or nontoxic.
Asbestos, for example, is a natural material that was once widely used in many products. But over time, the evidence became clear that breathing in asbestos fibers causes cancer.
Both wood and tobacco are natural plant materials, and when they are burned they emit a similar toxic brew of carcinogens and other harmful chemicals. When wood is burned, however, it releases a much larger volume of these toxins than cigarettes do, by orders of magnitude.
Researchers have found evidence that wood smoke is a more potent carcinogen than tobacco smoke, and is more mutagenic than diesel exhaust.
Wood smoke exposure is associated with the same variety of illnesses and diseases that are associated with smoking and secondhand cigarette smoke exposure, including ear infections, lung infections, asthma, COPD, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
A substantial and growing body of research provides evidence that pollution from wood burning can play a role in the development of behavioral and developmental disorders in children and in the progression of cognitive decline and dementia in adults.
Wood smoke pollution also increases the risk of premature death from cardiovascular and pulmonary causes.
Wood smoke is natural. But it’s not healthy.