Wood Smoke and Your Health
- What is wood smoke?
- Health effects of wood smoke
- Who is at risk from wood smoke?
- Environmental effects
Smoke forms when wood or other organic matter burns. The smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter, or PM). In addition to particle pollution, wood smoke contains several toxic harmful air pollutants including: benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The more efficiently you burn wood (e.g., using an EPA-certified wood stove and dry, seasoned wood) the less smoke is created.
Health effects of wood smoke
Smoke may smell good, but it's not good for you. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles, also called fine particulate matter or PM2.5. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they may cause burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses, such as bronchitis. Fine particles can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. Fine particles can also trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Learn more about the health and environmental effects of fine particles.
Who is at risk from wood smoke?
Wood smoke can affect everyone, but children, teenagers, older adults, people with lung disease, including asthma and COPD or people with heart diseases are the most vulnerable. Research indicates that obesity or diabetes may also increase risk. New or expectant mothers may also want to take precautions to protect the health of their babies, because some studies indicate they may be at increased risk.
It's important to limit your exposure to smoke—especially if you are more susceptible than others:
- If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people.
- Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have chronic heart or lung diseases than younger people.
- Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they're more likely to be active outdoors.
Environmental effects of wood smoke
The particles in wood smoke can reduce visibility (haze) and create environmental and aesthetic damage in our communities and scenic areas – like national parks.