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LETTER: Wood fires--wholesome or hypocritical?

Dear Editor,

I’ve just been reading your story “Only YOU can prevent cancer now” and can support wholeheartedly the mission of the PCN (Prevent Cancer Now) campaigners.

What I find ironical though, and even hypocritical in some instances, is that we often read about campaigns about carcinogens from BPA, tanning beds, nuclear power, coal fired power, cigarette smoking, garden chemicals and weed killers, incineration plants and many other sources of cancer causing chemicals and toxins and yet quite happily ignore a major source in our own towns that we are, or can be, in total control of…wood smoke.

Your story uses the expression “you can’t fight fire with fire”. You can however “fight fire with no fire”…from burning wood.

Wood smoke is known to contain more carcinogens than cigarette smoke. It harms you and your neighbours, especially children and people with respiratory problems. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) researchers suggest that the lifetime cancer risk from woodstove emissions might be 12 x greater than the lifetime cancer risk from an equal amount of cigarette smoke.

One EPA study concluded that breathing wood smoke on high pollution days is equivalent to smoking 4 to 16 cigarettes.

Another study concluded that a single wood stove operating for an hour and burning 10 lb. of wood will generate 4300 times more carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons that 30 cigarettes.

The health risk from wood smoke pollutants is well documented. Wood smoke contains over 100 chemical compounds including many of the same chemical compounds as cigarette smoke including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hazardous metals, and known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, dioxin, benzene and toluene compounds.

The greatest hazard is from fine particulates less than 2.5 microns in size (a human hair varies in diameter from about 20 to 120 microns). These fine particles can enter homes, even with doors and windows closed and even homes without wood stoves have reportedly been found to reach 50 to 70% of outdoor levels. Moreover, it has been found that these fine particles penetrate deep into the lungs and are long lasting.

Wood burning stoves have been found to be the largest single source of small toxic particles entering our homes, in many cases from neighbours wood stove

A BC Government report says that wood provides about 10% of residential space heating requirements in BC whilst accounting for 97% of the pollution from space heating. . It mentions an air-shed modeling study in Quesnel which determined that the “residential” sector contributed up to 62% of fine particulates.

In the Rossland energy surveys, 7 to 9% of respondents use wood as a primary fuel source and over 50% use wood as a secondary heating source.  A low cost solution to preventing or reducing these carcinogens in the air from wood smoke is quite simple….stop burning wood.

A further incentive to many conservation minded people who burn wood, under the impression that it is carbon neutral, should be the message from a campaign kicked off in February by Hillary Clinton on behalf of a Climate and Clean Air Coalition”. This campaign involves about 6 countries and the United Nations and targets “soot” from wood burning and diesel engines. The particulates or “black carbon”are now considered by researchers to be a significant contributor to global warming in addition to its known health risk.

Ken Holmes

Rossland