Chilly forecast may increase fireplace use and health problemsby Pima County News on Nov. 09, 2012, under air pollution, children, Environmental Quality, Health, Pima County, Southern Arizona, Tucson
Temperatures are forecast to drop this weekend which is often a time when people stoke up their fireplaces. Wood-burning fireplaces can be a pleasant source of warmth and comfort when the air gets crisp, but for some people, fireplace smoke can literally take your breath away.
Wood smoke contains hundreds of chemical compounds and some of them can harm people with heart or respiratory disease, babies, young children and pregnant women. Pollutants in wood smoke can cause the eyes, nose and throat to burn with irritation, and cause headache and nausea in some people.
“I frequently receive calls in the winter from people who cannot take their dog out for a walk, due to the fireplace smoke near their home,” said Beth Gorman, Senior Program Manager for Pima County Department of Environmental Quality. “People who are really sensitive to smoke can experience health effects if smoke levels are high,” Gorman continued.
Walking in neighborhoods where fireplace smoke is heavy can cause irregular heartbeat, chest pain and shortness of breath in susceptible people. Smoke can make asthma symptoms worse and cause higher rates of lung inflammation and pneumonia in young children in homes where wood-burning fireplaces are used.
Fireplaces aren’t efficient home heaters. Most homes aren’t perfectly insulated, so cold air seeps in under doors and through cracks, while hot air escapes up the chimney.
If flues are not properly installed and maintained, particles released during wood burning can escape into the home. The Environmental Protection Agency says several of the pollutants emitted by wood burning have demonstrated cancer-causing properties similar to cigarette smoke.
To reduce your risk of harm from using a wood-burning fireplace, follow these tips:
- Have chimney cleaned seasonally to reduce creosote buildup.
- Burn hardwoods like oak, mesquite and pecan instead of soft woods like cedar, fir or pine. The wood should be split, and dried for at least six months.
- Use smaller pieces of wood. They burn more efficiently and are a better source of heat.
- Allow enough room inside the fireplace for air to circulate freely around the wood.
- Never burn plastics, painted wood, charcoal, printed pages in a fireplace. They will release toxic materials into the air.
- Check your chimney from the outside. If you see smoke, your fire is not burning hot enough. Give the fire more air, and then check again.
- Check before you light a fire to see if local air pollution levels are elevated. If they are, avoid using the fireplace on those days, if possible. Get pollution information at www.airinfonow.org or call (520) 882-4347.
- Remember: if you can smell smoke, you are breathing smoke!