woodsmoke2What is Wood Smoke?
Wood smoke is produced from burning solid fuel in a wood heater or open fireplace. Wood smoke contains a complex mixture of pollutants and toxics, mainly fine particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, xylene and formaldehyde. A poorly operated wood heater or open fireplace can cause high levels of these pollutants around your home and neighbourhood.

How do wood smoke pollutants affect us?

  • Fine particles: Fine particles in smoke can cause short-term irritations in the eyes, nose and throat. If fine particles are breathed deep into the lungs, it can aggravate existing heart and lung conditions such as angina, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. According to the World Health Organization any exposure to fine particles can cause health problems.
  • Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless and odourless gas. CO deprives the body of oxygen and affects the reflexes. At low levels of exposure, people can experience headaches, fatigue or chest pain; at moderate levels, flu-like symptoms; and high concentrations may result in death. A poorly installed wood heater can cause elevated levels of CO inside a home.
  • PAHs: PAHs can cause eye irritations, headaches and serious damage to the respiratory, nervous, reproductive and immune systems. Exposure to high levels can cause cancer. PAH levels are highest during winter when wood heaters and open fireplaces are frequently used.

Who is at risk?

Wood smoke pollution affects everyone. It is bad for your health, the health of your neighbours and the health of your wider community. The effects depend on how much wood smoke you have been exposed to and for how long, your age and your current state of health.

The people who are at the greatest risk are:

  • infants and young children
  • those suffering from existing heart, lung and vascular conditions such as asthma, angina, emphysema and diabetes
  • frail and elderly people.

When wood smoke is a problem in your local area…

  • Avoid any outdoor physical activity.
  • If you suffer from heart or lung disease and you notice symptoms, ensure you take your medication, rest, and seek medical advice if symptoms do not settle.