Smoke Gets in My Eyes… and Lungs… and Brain…

wood stove
Wood stove by Paul Johnson.

There was a certain irony in my recent post about Paul Johnson’s talk, since one of the photos included a beautifully crafted paper rendition of a wood stove that was part of one of Paul’s books.

I haven’t yet mentioned this here, but an increasingly large part of my life lately has been, and is, devoted to anti-wood smoke activism. Humboldt County has always been a smoky place. But it has gotten noticeably worse over the last several years. Our lives have become a breathless misery (we all have asthma, including Dominic the cat, and, before he died, Larry the cat as well).

I started doing some research on the matter, and I soon discovered that it wasn’t our imagination that wood smoke is not a good thing to be inhaling. I began to connect with others online who are suffering because of wood burning. It is not a small community. There are a lot of sick and unhappy people out there who are running up big medical bills and who’ve been forced from their homes because of what their neighbors are sending up the chimney. It’s a growing problem.

More people seem to be turning to wood stoves in an attempt to lower their heating costs. Unfortunately, their neighbors wind up subsidizing those heating costs with their own increased medical expenses. (See the 17 Reasons to Ban Wood Burning publicized by the group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment).

Part of the problem is that many people think of wood as something natural. They believe it is environmentally a better choice. However, wood smoke is now thought to be more toxic than cigarette smoke, and the research on it is overwhelming and clear: it kills. Wood smoke exposure is known to cause asthma, heart attacks, strokes, COPD, lung cancer, systemic inflammatory responses and more. It is even now thought to play a role in the development of neurological disorders and dementia.

I’ve become involved with a group of people who are fighting against wood smoke in their communities. An outgrowth of this effort is a new international organization that is being formed to fight wood smoke pollution. It’s still getting going. And I hope to help in whatever way I can.

The EPA’s “Burn Wise” program was developed in partnership with the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, an industry lobbying group that sends its members to training workshops on how to lobby against clean air initiatives. They put out a booklet last year entitled “Tips For Communicating With Congress.” Their mission is to get people to buy more stoves, not to protect health. The problem is that those newer stoves aren’t as clean and green as people have been led to believe. Newer “EPA approved” stoves actually can emit more dioxins, furans and other carcinogens than older stoves. These are some of the most toxic chemicals to which you can be exposed. Their performance also degrades over time. Within a few years, they can emit as much particulate pollution as an older stove. The wording from the piece below comes directly from the EPA’s website, but with my own alterations:

Smoke Wise

A few selected links for more information:

Families for Clean Air

Clean Air Revival/Burning Issues

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

“Woodstoves may be as toxic as cigarettes,” newspaper article

Comments to an article in the BMJ

Note: After the latest round of WordPress updates, the lightbox feature suddenly stopped working. If you click on the pictures, they don’t enlarge. But if you right click, you can get an enlargement in a separate window. I suspect this is going to be one of those things that will take a while to sort out… ugh.