The New Social Stigma of Wood Burning

The New Social Stigma of Wood Burning

A round of applause, please, for reporter Christina S. N. Lewis.

“The fireplace, once a point of pride, is now seen as an environmental hazard,” concluded her recent New York Times article (“The Love Affair With the Fireplace Cools”, Jan. 20, 2011). Continuing, Ms. Lewis notes, “Among those who aspire to be environmentally responsible, [the fireplace] is joining the ranks of bottled water and big houses.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. This article represents an encouraging paradigm shift, one that is fully supported by Families for Clean Air. Notably, articles in the Home sections of newspapers often extol the ‘pleasures’ of a roaring fire without mentioning the toxic effects of wood smoke on human health and the environment.

Specifically, the NYT article notes that the American Lung Association “strongly advises people not to use the traditional fireplace” because of the irritating effects of the particulate matter, carcinogens, and gases in wood smoke. It also points out that fireplaces and wood stoves are “major contributors to particulate-matter air pollution in much of the United States.”

We disagree with the article on one point: EPA-certified wood stoves are cited as one way to make wood burning more “environmentally friendly.” However, as we point out in our published response to the article, such stoves still produce far more particulate pollution than appliances that burn natural gas. Further, the actual performance of EPA-certified wood stoves, in terms of particulate pollution, is poorer than expected compared to results obtained in laboratory conditions. In fact, such stoves tend to produce more pollution after years of use than they do when they are new.

Nonetheless, this article chronicles what we hope is the start of a movement away from fireplace use, wood burning, and air pollution towards cleaner and healthier air.

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