by Pam Nieberg –
Based on these analyses, pollution from burning wood in stoves and fireplaces and elsewhere was reported to be the top cancer risk in some areas of the country. According to the EPA, the analysis indicates that burning wood creates a greater cancer risk than even benzene, a carcinogen emitted by cars and trucks in the tens of thousands of tons each year.
Oregon’s highest ranking for wood smoke cancer-causing potential is partly due to the fact that Oregon has done a far better job of documenting the generation of wood smoke, Palma said, including surveying residents three times since 2000 to gauge actual wood stove and fireplace use. “If the other 49 states did as good a job as Oregon,” Palma said, “Oregon wouldn’t be at the top.”
These results are not surprising. As long ago as 1989, the scientific community has known that the pollutants in wood smoke have a much greater biological impact in the human body compared to cigarette smoke or even automobile exhaust on a per unit weight basis.
In a laboratory at Louisiana State University, researchers found that the free radicals produced from wood smoke are chemically active 40 times longer than those produced from cigarette smoke, so that once inhaled they will attack the body’s cells longer. (See Pryor, William, “Biological effects of cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and the smoke from plastics: The use of electron spin resonance”, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Vol. 13:6 (659-676) 1989.
“Burning 2 cords of wood produces the same amount of mutagenic (capable of causing cell mutations that can cause cancer) particles as driving 13 gasoline-powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon. These figures indicate that the worst contribution that an individual is likely to make to the mutagenicity of the air is using a wood stove for heating.” (See Lewtas, Joellen. “Contribution of Source Emissions of the Mutagenicity of Ambient Urban Air Particles”. US EPA, #91-131.6, 1991.
There is no reason to believe that wood smoke produced by California’s fire places and stoves is any less carcinogenic and stringent restrictions on burning should thus be enacted just as with cigarette smoking.