As the weather gets colder, thoughts of curling up with a mug of hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire become more appealing. Though indoor wood-burning stoves and heaters may have a quaint and traditional feel, they also produce harmful toxins that could damage your lungs and affect the air quality. 

So, before you throw another log on the fire, it is important to understand how wood-burning devices work and how to protect your family's lungs: 

Health Effects Caused by Wood Smoke

The smoke from wood-burning devices, such as stoves and heaters, contains fine particle pollution, and hazardous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides benzene and formaldehyde. Particle pollution is especially dangerous because these tiny particles can get deep into the organs, harming not just the lungs, but also blood vessels, the heart and brain. Wood smoke can cause coughing, wheezing and asthma attacks, and lead to serious health issues, such as heart attacks, stroke and premature death. Wood smoke also adds carbon dioxide and methane to the air, both of which significantly contribute to climate change. 

Protecting Those at High Risk

Wood smoke is not good for any set of lungs, but it can be particularly harmful to those with vulnerable lungs, such as children and older adults. Additionally, those with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are also more affected by wood smoke. Breathing the smoke can easily cause coughing and asthma attacks. 

Outdoor Pollution Created by Wood Smoke

Wood stoves often run 24 hours a day, pumping wood smoke and toxins into the outdoor air. If wood-burning stoves or heaters are affecting your neighborhood’s air, take steps to protect your family: encourage children, older adults and those living with lung disease to remain indoors; use the recirculate function on air conditioners; and keep windows and vents closed.  

Finding Wood Alternatives

To reduce indoor and outdoor pollution from wood-burning devices, switch to cleaner devices such as natural gas stoves and heaters, and make sure they are fully vented to the outdoors. If you are unable to switch, use pellets and dry hardwood for a cleaner and more efficient burn. You can also buy a cleaner wood-burning device. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted new standards for cleaner and more energy efficient wood-burning devices in 2015. Many devices currently meet the 2020 standards and have hangtags showing this certification. 

This winter, make changes to your wood heater and stove so you and your lungs can enjoy a cozy evening.

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