Wood smoke has become the new “second hand” smoke and it is making thousands of people sick across the country. The components of wood smoke are virtually the same as cigarette smoke and yet wood smoke is hardly regulated while cigarette smoke is highly regulated.

The general public is unaware of the dangers of wood smoke exposures and therefore public opinion is not on the side of regulations. This has been a major problem when states have tried to regulate wood smoke emissions that affect the health of families who live near wood smoke emissions.

Theh EPA’s own website states, “Fine particle pollution resulting from wood smoke can lead to a variety of health effects particularly affecting those with lung disease, asthma, COPD, and heart disease.  Children, teenagers, older adults, and new or expectant mothers may want to take precautions and limit their exposure to protect their health and the health of their babies. Fine particle pollution can trigger asthma attacks, impair lung development in children, increase symptoms of COPD and cause coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. For people with heart disease, particle pollution is linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and stroke.”

Recreational outdoor wood burning with fire pits, chimineas and other outdoor appliances is growing, and having the front page of the home section of the Hartford Courant promote recreational wood burning with these appliances certainly does not help. The people who live next to these wood burning recreational appliances are complaining that they are making them sick and deprive them of being able to breathe clean air.

A chiminea.
A chiminea.

Up to now, the financial burdens of wood burning have been transferred from the wood-burner, who is either saving some money in heating costs or simply using recreational wood-burning appliances, to the neighbors who are often losing their right to clean air.  If a harmed neighbor hires a lawyer to try to sue the wood-burner under the state’s nuisance clause, what they quickly find out is that they will pay their lawyer by the hour while the offending wood burner’s liability insurance will pay for his legal fees.  The wood-burner therefore can withstand the suit for a long time, while the harmed neighbor will soon run out of money.  Again, it is the harmed person who is both physically and financially damaged.

Harmed citizens across the country have asked their local, state and federal government for relief from wood smoke emissions from their neighbors’ wood burning, but most do not get relief.  Instead, they have often had to suffer sinusitis, pneumonia, asthma and the risk of lung cancer form their constant breathing in the wood smoke.

When state legislatures try to regulate wood smoke in their states, their hearing rooms fill with people from the farm bureau, from industry, from Departments of Agriculture, and with all those people who own wood burning appliances. So far, the states have sided with industry and those who emit the wood smoke, and they have left the harmed people to fend for themselves.

This means the harmed families have but a few choices: they can stay in their homes and get sick, they can try to sell their homes, but if the wood smoke is constant enough, usually people will be reluctant to buy their homes, or they can hire a lawyer – if they can afford to.

It is time that people begin to understand that wood smoke is not benign and that it should be regulated in a way that protects the public from harm.

Nancy Alderman is President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

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