Warm-weather Wood Burning: Pollution in Our Own Backyards
The weather is heating up, and homeowners are not burning as much wood to stay warm. Now we can all take a deep breath without fear of inhaling wood smoke, right?
Not quite. Unfortunately, the increasing popularity of backyard fire pits and “chimineas” is creating a new reason to worry if you like to breathe clean air. Burning wood in outdoor fire pits and chimineas is just as bad for air quality as burning wood in a fireplace or wood stove. The same pollutants, including particulate matter and dioxin, are produced. Worse, burning wood in the backyard eliminates the “smokestack” that normally releases these pollutants away from ground level; this results in more direct inhalation of the toxins.
Sitting around a camp fire, backyard fire pit, or chiminea thus results in much more immediate, concentrated exposure to harmful particles and since there is not as much opportunity for dispersion. The Canadian Lung Association notes, “Wood smoke from chimineas may stay closer to the ground since they have low chimney stacks and can pose a problem for neighbors.” The upshot is that those in the immediate vicinity of the fire inhale large quantities of wood smoke pollution, and their neighbors get a big dose as well. Children are especially vulnerable, as their respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults.
While the romance of an outdoor fire is just as alluring as that of a blazing log in the hearth of your living room, please consider the damaging effects of these fires on your health and that of your children and neighbors. We all deserve to have healthy air and to enjoy our backyards without breathing in the pollution from an outdoor fire.