Plattsburgh Press Republican (Letter to the editor): Bad smoke

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December 26, 2011

TO THE EDITOR:

I was surprised that a recent news article (New biomass plants at Ausable Valley AVCS warming up to new eco-friendly boiler systems) touted wood-chip boilers as being "eco-friendly."

Unfortunately, the reality is not so simple: Wood-smoke emissions contain components such as carbon monoxide, various irritant gases and chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as benzene. Worse yet, burning wood affects more than just outdoor air quality. Studies have shown that wood burning devices increase levels of particulate pollution in indoor air.

The health effects of wood-smoke exposure include increased coughing, wheezing and asthma attacks, increased hospital admissions for lower respiratory infections and difficulty breathing. Wood smoke can also be linked with a variety of other health effects, including increased risks of emergency-room visits and hospitalizations for respiratory conditions and premature death.

In the Lung Association's State of the Air Report 2011, it was found that nearly half of the state's residents live in areas where unhealthy air threatens their lives and health. If our goal is to create clean, healthy air, then the introduction of more wood burning is certainly a step in the wrong direction.

Saving money on heating costs is a laudable goal, but not at the expense of the air that our children breathe. When more than 400,000 children in New York state suffer from asthma, it's disappointing to see heating systems that could aggravate symptoms being placed in schools.

Irwin Berlin, MD
Board Chair American Lung Association in New York
Albany