Wood burning a toxic air pollutant

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SALT LAKE CITY - Finding ways to combat bad air are a hot topic across the Salt Lake Valley, and experts warn of one source from inside the home.

Residents are making effort to carpool and politicians are pushing for stricter regulations, but something they are doing inside could be causing more damage.

"Wood burning is a bigger issue than any of us have known, here in Utah specifically," said Erin Mendenhall, Breathe Utah. "Wood burning is accounting for as much direct PM2.5 as our cars and trucks are."

According to Mendenhall, Environmental Protection Agency numbers show that burning a wood fireplace for one hour emits 3,000 to 90,000 times more pollution than burning a natural gas furnace for that same amount of time.

"We think of it as this nice snowy night lets put a fire on for the ambiance of it. We need to start thinking twice about that kind of decision we make, it is a huge impact on our air shed,"  Mendenhall said.

Dr. Brian Moench with the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment says that wood smoke and industrial admissions are the most toxic types of air pollution, which can have an impact on our health.

"People should understand that when they are burning wood in their own home, they are not only creating a toxic environment for their own family, but because those particles are exceedingly small, they seep seamlessly into neighbors' homes and affect the health of your neighbors as well," Moench said.

The Clean Air, No Excuses public rally is being held on January 25 at the Utah State Capitol calling on legislators to act on air pollution issues. The state legislative session begins the next week.


  • marie

    People have relied on wood burning to heat their homes for centuries. Wood burning is not the problem. All the toxic, artificial chemicals being pumped into the enviornment are to blame. Now that we have almost destroyed this planet, people are realizing that we should have been thinking green all these years. Now they want to try to repair the damage. Its too late. Instead of taking our livelihood from us, decrease the cost of heating our homes. Find a way to repair the ozone layer, stop global warming, invent a way to blow the muck out of the atmosphere or start wearing respirators. Stop blaming the little people.

  • joe

    I feel that people that burn wood are creating a minimal amount of the pollution problem in the Wasatch front area. There is a system in place so that wood burning citizens know the current air status and weather or not they can burn and I feel that people comply with that for the most. If you want to see where the very large amounts of pollution are coming from just drive up on Wasatch blvd. and look across the valley. I think you will see a tremendous amount of smoke and pollution coming from the approximate eight refineries in north salt lake and woods cross area, or maybe the coal fired power plant in north salt lake, or how about the gold and silver refinery/smelter at magna, or possibly the magnesium plant just west of magna. Remember when Geneva steel was still operating in Utah county? The red smoke filled all three valleys even in the summer. If you want to make a change in air quality in Utah or the Wasatch front area your going to have to start the source of theses problems . I find it quite interesting that you never hear mention of these industrial polluters when air quality becomes the topic, maybe that’s what money and political pull can do for you, Be careful about giving your right up to build a wood fire I think you will regret it !

  • gus

    Didn’t one of the refineries in woods cross just receive a permit to expand there operations! HELLO!! I feel bad for the people that live in bountiful and woods cross, last fall I was looking for the field my son’s football game was in and happened to drive through woods cross city, I could taste some type of petroleum by product and my eyes and throat became irritated. I realize there wasn’t such a population here when these industries started here but perhaps instead of building them bigger we should relocate the or at least shut them down during inversions. PS look around its not hard to figure out where this crud is coming from. the occasional wood fire isn’t the source!

  • Vic Steblin

    Wood burners have an arsenal of standard tactics. The easiest tactic is to point out vehicle exhaust, industry smoke stacks, dust, and forest fires. Somehow this is supposed to stop residential wood smoke complaints.

    A second tactic is to claim that humans have natural health defenses, so a little bit of smoke abuse doesn’t matter. They tell stories of relatives who burned and lived long healthy lives. Wood burners are now free to pollute.

    A third tactic is to say that most current laws allow burning. Wood burners point out that for most of history people have been burning. Until laws change they will continue burning wood.

    A fourth tactic is to plead poverty, while actually having a house and driving around in a big truck to haul wood. They even donate to worthy causes.

    A fifth tactic is to say that wood smoke smells nice so it must be safe. So does most cooking. So do many polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that cause DNA damage.

    A sixth tactic is to belittle anyone who complains about wood smoke and then point out that there are more pressing concerns like drugs and crime.

    A seventh tactic is to say that wood burning reduces the use of fossil fuel. But burning wood actually adds more CO2 to the atmosphere per unit of heat than the fossil fuels and does not allow trees to grow and rot into soil.

    All the tactics have decent counter arguments. In general, anyone who still burns wood in crowded areas is inconsiderate.

  • Ernest Grolimund, retired engineer

    Great reporting! Apportionment studies show wood smoke is 50% of the winter pm2.5 from state studies that check each other and EPA studies. No one can escape the illegal pollution, and wood burning is the largest source of pollution with reasonable alternatives to wood burning.

    New modeling and monitoring of pollution near each type of wood burning equipment s showing even pellet stoves are dangerous due to the pm2.5 being 5 times more toxic than mixed pm from oil and gas combustion. Therefor, the 80 mcg/m3 of pm monitored is equivalent to 240 mcg/m3 of mixed historic pm2.5. Adding toxicity from 187 toxic gases increases the toxicity even more.

    I ages past, we did not have a million people or so living in valley like the SLC valley. There are too many people now so we can’t handle all the burning. We all need to buy $50 quartz heaters for the radiant heat feel of a wood stove without the pollution. Saves 50% on heating bills by using the principle of zone heating, too so that is fair enough.
    God is testing us and seeing if we will take care of our neighbors and the garden earth.

    Weatherize, insulate, use electric or gas space heaters, window insulation, tap free solar energy coming through windows with moveable insulation. Require stove companies to test pm conc at nearby houses instead of best available control technology. If BACT does not keep pollution below new safe dose for wood smoke pm2.5, then do not allow it to violate constitutional rights to life and health.

    Look at the black lungs of cigarete smokers and those living with smokers second hand smoke. We would be better off without all that per DHHS and EPA experts. Follow the lead of London and prevent the present crisis and near disaster by banning solid fuel burning for starters. London was pleasantly surprised at the clean air when it did so. Less heart attacks, asthma attacks, and dreaded cancer.

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