A quick look online reveals hearth sellers boasting of the “appearance, feel, and smell of wood burning in an open fireplace.” But they don’t mention the health risks from the high levels of particulates and toxins that a fireplace emits.

Traditional fireplaces are usually not counted as a heat source, because most of the heat goes up the chimney and they can actually suck warm air out of the house.

The feet of a young child in woolen socks is in front of an open fire burning in a fireplace.
A source of harmful pollutants both inside the home and outside it in the surrounding neighborhood.

High indoor levels of pollution

Fireplaces not only contribute substantially to outdoor levels of pollution, but they have significant impacts on indoor air quality as well.

A study from Spain, for example, concluded that people in a living room with an open fireplace are exposed to high levels of indoor pollution, with particles in a size range that “will be deposited in bronchioles and alveoli with great detriment to health.”

Increased lung cancer risk

An Italian study of emissions from different types of wood-burning in homes found  “extremely high” indoor particle pollution levels from open fireplaces.

The researchers concluded that the lifetime increased lung cancer risk from being exposed to a wood-burning fireplace in the home is “significantly larger than the EPA acceptable lifetime risk.”

Residential wood burning references