The impact on your health
Dirty woodstoves release black carbon and a variety of other pollutants into the air. Black carbon is made up of fine particles that are small enough to get into the deepest airways in your lungs. Fine particulate matter, commonly called PM2.5, is one of the largest environmental causes of death globally. In some locations, residential woodstoves can contribute up to 90% of airborne particle pollution during cold months (1). These fine particles cause a range of health problems (2), including:
- eye, nose and throat irritation
- coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath
- reduced lung function
- irregular heartbeat
- asthma attacks
- heart attacks
- premature death in people with heart or lung disease
In addition to particle pollution, woodstoves also emit many other toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, formaldhyde, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
No one is safe from woodstove emissions. Research indicates that children, teenagers, older adults, and people with lung disease (including asthma and COPD) or heart diseases are the most vulnerable. Babies may also be more susceptible. Some research suggests that obesity and diabetes may also increase risk.
The United Nations Environment Programme and World Bank estimate that improved biomass (wood) and coal heating stoves could avoid approximately 230,000 premature deaths worldwide every year, with the majority of those health benefits occurring in OECD nations (3).
It is best for everyone to limit exposure to woodstove pollution by taking smart steps to burn more efficiently and reduce emissions. Just follow the Five Simple Steps for Better Burning!
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Executive Body for the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, Working Group on Effects (2014). Residential Heating with Wood and Coal: Health Impacts and Policy Options in Europe and North American. Report by the Joint Task Force on the Health Aspects of Air Pollution. UNECE: Geneva.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Particle Pollution (PM), available at: http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.particle.
- The World Bank and International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (2013). On Thin Ice: How Cutting Pollution Can Slow Warming and Save Lives. The World Bank and International Cryosphere Climate Initiative: Washington, DC.