New Paper Examines Effects of Wood Smoke Pollution on Children’s Health

New Paper Examines Effects of Wood Smoke Pollution on Children’s Health

House with wood stove drawn by a child

A paper recently published in a leading American medical journal should be of concern to anyone raising children in a neighborhood where people use wood stoves or fireplaces.

The paper is the result of a systematic review of the scientific literature to explore the consequences that living in areas impacted by wood smoke has on children’s health.

The authors only included studies that focused on the respiratory health effects of wood smoke on children in developed nations. All of the studies met strict inclusion criteria and were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Their findings? The authors concluded that, “Studies found community wood smoke exposure to be consistently associated with adverse pediatric respiratory health.”

The associations between neighborhood wood smoke and negative health effects were observed in children of all ages and included a plethora of respiratory ailments: “When wood smoke was higher, children had more upper respiratory tract infections, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, otitis media [ear infections], and hospital admissions for respiratory illness. Children with asthma had worse lung function when community wood smoke was higher.”

The toxic particles in wood smoke are small enough that even closed windows and doors don’t stop them from getting into nearby houses. In many areas, even if a family doesn’t burn wood, they have no choice but to breathe their neighbor’s wood smoke pollution. And wood stoves and fireplaces produce a lot of pollution, accounting for 30% of the fine particle pollution in many areas. The authors note, “Children living in wood-burning communities, regardless of whether there is a
 wood stove in the home, may be at higher risk for adverse respiratory health.”

The findings offer little comfort to the parents of children who are growing up in neighborhoods with wood burning. Although some sources recommend the use of EPA-certified wood stoves as a panacea for wood smoke pollution issues, the performance of these devices is entirely user-dependent, and the emissions reductions are not nearly as effective as touted. In fact, changeout studies in Montana and British Columbia showed little effect on wood smoke pollution. The most effective solution is for people to stop burning wood.

Unfortunately, far too many people remain unaware that breathing wood smoke is one of the worst things you can do to your health—or your children’s.

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