American Lung Association Cautions Against Wood-burning and Urges Cleaner Alternatives for Winter Heat

(September 25, 2008)

WASHINGTON, D.C., (September 29, 2008) –  As cooler temperatures begin to mark the beginning of fall, the American Lung Association warns that the comfort of a roaring fire can be harmful to your health and have a negative impact on both indoor and outdoor air quality. Burning wood emits harmful toxins and fine particles in the air that can worsen breathing problems and lead to heart and lung disease and even early death. 

“With energy costs at an all time high, we are concerned about the potential impact the increased reliance on wood burning, particularly the use of wood stoves, might have on both the environment and the families who rely primarily on this method of home heating this winter,” said Bernadette Toomey President and CEO of the American Lung Association. 

Wood smoke poses a special threat to people with asthma and COPD and should be actively avoided by those with lung disease. When possible, the American Lung Association strongly recommends using cleaner, less toxic sources of heat. Converting a wood-burning fireplace or stove to use either natural gas or propane will eliminate exposure to the dangerous toxins wood burning generates including dioxin, arsenic and formaldehyde. 

“Wood stoves manufactured before 1995 should be replaced with one that is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and that meets the stricter standards set by the State of Washington,” noted Toomey. “Vented natural gas or certified wood and pellet stoves are suitable replacements, as is installing an electric, natural gas or propane furnace.” 

Although both natural gas and propane stoves are much cleaner than their wood-burning alternatives, these devices must be directly vented outside the home to reduce exposure to carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and other emissions produced by these energy sources. Advertising claims suggest otherwise, however the American Lung Association warns that gas and propane stoves can be a threat to any family’s health without proper outdoor ventilation. 

When building a fire, the American Lung Association urges homeowners to take needed steps to build a cleaner fire to reduce the level of toxic emissions. Burn only100 percent untreated wood or manufactured fireplace logs. Wood should be purchased early in the year and be stored in a covered place for at least six months before use. This will allow the wood sufficient time to dry thoroughly and ultimately will burn more efficiently and will emit less pollution. 

 The American Lung Association also cautions against burning other materials such as colored paper, plastics, rubber and trash. These items generate more harmful chemicals, increased pollution and produce less heat than untreated wood or manufactured fireplace logs. 

“It is also important to comply with local burn bans and to not burn wood or other materials during these times,” added Toomey. “Every single chimney and wood-burning stove can have an impact on the air quality in your home and in your community.” 

The American Lung Association also advises home owners to be mindful of the weather. When air is cold and still, temperature inversions trap wood smoke and other pollutants close to the ground. Wood-burning should be avoided on hazy, windless days and nights. 

About the American Lung Association: Beginning our second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Lung disease death rates are currently increasing while other major causes of death are declining. The American Lung Association funds vital research on the causes of and treatments for lung disease. With the generous support of the public, the American Lung Association is “Improving life, one breath at a time.” For more information about the American Lung Association, a Charity Navigator Four Star Charity, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or log on to www.lung.org.