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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Balancing Wood Smoke and Your Health
By Martha Webster

In Maine and throughout northern New England, with cold winters and a
forested landscape, wood is an obvious choice for home heating. Wood
continues to be plentiful and has been used to heat dwellings since the first
people began to live here.

All wood smoke, whether visible or not, can affect the health of everyone in
the neighborhood.

During the winter, wood smoke contributes to higher particle pollution values
when conditions trap local emissions near the ground.  "Wood smoke" found
indoors may come directly from a woodstove/fireplace or from outdoor wood
smoke that has penetrated the building.

Wood smoke contains harmful chemical substances such as: carbon monoxide,
nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxin, and inhalable
particles. Some of the VOCs are irritating, toxic, and/or cancer causing.

The biggest health threat from wood smoke comes from "particle pollution" --
tiny particles that remain airborne. Particle pollution contains many of the
chemical substances mentioned above. These microscopic particles can get into
your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such
as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Particle pollution
can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and is linked to premature
deaths in people with these chronic conditions.

There are ways we can all reduce our impact on air quality in our

Burn seasoned firewood in a manner that promotes complete combustion to
reduce the amount of pollution emitted. Small, hot fires are better than large
smoldering fires.

To maintain your fire in the proper temperature range, use a stovepipe
thermometer, an inexpensive device that sticks to the pipe magnetically.  For
improved draft and combustion, as well as safety, the chimney or stack should
be cleaned as directed by the manufacturer.

Another important recommendation is not to install any device, such as a
"rainhat," which impedes or reduces the vertical momentum of smoke out the
stack. Vertical momentum helps to spread the wood smoke over a greater
volume of air and also pushes wood smoke higher above the ground thus
diluting concentrations, especially at ground level.

Newer woodstoves and fireplace inserts, which have been approved by the
EPA, emit less particle pollution and produce much more heat per unit of
than older models ultimately paying for their replacement after a few
years.  Pellet wood stoves are much cleaner than any other wood burning
appliance.  All wood burning appliances should be the proper size for the job.

People with respiratory and/or heart disease, the elderly and children should
take precautions when air quality is likely to be poor. The Maine Department of
Environmental Protection forecasts air quality year-round using the Air Quality
Index (AQI).  These forecasts and much more information can be found at
DEP click on ‘Maine Air Quality Forecast’.  A brief forecast discussion can also
be heard by dialing (800) 223-1196.  So “Give A Hoot, Don’t Pollute” and “Keep
an eye on the AQI.”

About the author: This column was submitted by Martha Webster, a Meteorologist and
Air Quality Forecaster with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP)
Bureau of Air Quality.
©The Heart of New England online magazine
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