Wood Smoke: An ‘Ancient and Traditional’ Cause of COPD

Wood Smoke: An ‘Ancient and Traditional’ Cause of COPD

March, 2011. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “Wood smoke harmful to health and DNA, study finds,” garnered many comments from readers. Many of the comments had a similar theme.

One reader wrote, “Note to All: Our species has been burning wood for warmth, for food preparation, and for general social evolution, for tens of thousands of years.”

Another anonymous commenter said, “Hmmm, lets see man has had FIRE for oh about 100,000 years so tell me again how many people in the study group? And if this is a TRUE STUDY why aren’t we all EXTINCT???”

Finally, there was this statement, “Needless to say, wood fires have been used by humans for thousands of years with no ill effects.”

Well, actually no–while humans have indeed been burning wood for heat and cooking for thousands of years, this practice has also been harming people’s health for thousands of years and continues to do so today.

Signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory disease state associated with breathing difficulty and sputum, have been found in Egyptian mummies and in a 1,600-year-old Alaskan mummy. Notes one researcher, “COPD secondary to exposure to open wood fires while cooking is still an important cause of COPD in many countries, and probably has been a cause of COPD ever since fire was introduced for cooking.”

In the Western world, we tend to romanticize ancient practices, including burning wood. However, there is nothing romantic about hacking up mucus, wheezing, and being out of breath. People in developing countries in Asia, South America, and Africa who rely on burning even today continue to develop COPD at alarming rates.

Because we are dedicated to education about the harmful effects of wood smoke, we at Families for Clean Air find such comments from readers to be disheartening.

Luckily, the tide seems to be turning, and there were also comments in response to this article that gave us hope: “Have the people that think wood smoke is healthy even read the article?” asks one commenter. (This question also occurred to us, and the answer is likely, “No.”) And another reader could have been speaking for us, writing, “Newsflash–smoke of any kind is harmful.”

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