Why You Shouldn’t Burn Wood This Winter


(From Press Release) – As winter settles in Yolo and Solano County, so does cooler temperatures, brisk mornings and often, the smell of wood smoke permeating the air.

Many people associate cold weather with a crackling fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate or associate wood burning with their holiday tradition. What many people don’t realize is that burning wood significantly contributes to particulate matter (PM) in the air and is hazardous to your health.

“Particulate matter can be inhaled by anyone who smells wood smoke,” said Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District’s Director Mat Ehrhardt. “There is no distinction between young and old, fit or not. Particulate pollution can affect everyone.”

Particulate matter, or particulate pollution, is a complex mixture of chemicals that vary in size, shape and chemical composition. Some particles, such as dust, soot or smoke, are large enough to be seen with the human eye, while others are so small they are 1/30 the width of a human hair.

When particulate pollution is inhaled, it can cause serious health problems because they can lodge deep into the lungs or even enter the bloodstream. Short term health effects from PM include coughing and sneezing and can worsen existing conditions such as asthma and heart disease. In addition, since the region sits in a basin, winter inversion layers trap wood smoke and other
pollutants close to the ground, adding to the exposure and length of time residents are subjected to particulate pollution.

“Already this winter season, we have had 21 ‘Don’t Light Tonight’ advisories in the District,” said Public Information Officer Jenny Tan. “Many of those days had temperature inversions or ridges of high pressure that prevented pollutants from dispersing.”

Though rain and wind provide temporary reprieves from PM and help clear out pollutants, there are many more days of stagnant or stationary air expected before winter ends that will keep particulate pollution confined to the region and the air we breathe.

Here are some tips to help lower your PM footprint:

  • Refrain from burning wood.
  • If you do burn wood, make sure the wood is burned properly and is well seasoned.
  • Never burn plastic, rubber or trash.
  • If it’s cold, turn up the heater or use electric blankets instead.
  • Replace your old wood stove with a cleaner appliance.

Here are some tips to lower your exposure to particulate matter:

  • Limit your outdoor physical activity or avoid areas that smell like wood smoke.
  • Sign up to receive free advisories or alerts at http://ysaqmd.enviroflash.org/.
  • Change out household air filters regularly.
  • Close windows and doors when particle levels are high.
  • Explore options like air purifiers with HEPA filters to reduce PM inside the home.

For more information about the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, including signing up for air quality alerts and the monthly newsletter, visit: www.ysaqmd.org

. Connect with the District on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/YoloSolanoAir

or on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/YoloSolanoAir.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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4 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Burn Wood This Winter”

  1. Todd Edelman

    How ’bout a “Don’t Drive Up the Blight”? The main part of the debate about “Nishi 2.0” is concerned with ultrafine particulate matter, and so my question assumes that motor vehicle use is the no. 2 cause… how bad is it compared to word burning?

    Can’t think of a rhyme involving “leaves…” (Hmm… perhaps “No blow. Leave leaves, or for god’s sake just rake”?) Anyway… yeah… how much would it help to ban leaf blowing when bad PM 2.5 is predicted?

    Make sure air cleaners are True HEPA rather than “HEPA style”. It’s the dust you can’t see that hurts the most. To the advice in the article I would that forced air heating systems should have minimum MERV 13 filters – this is what is recommended in Los Angeles for housing near freeways, and which will be required for Lincoln40… and i am curious what landlords provide at other rental housing in Davis that’s within 1000 feet of the I-80. And one more: Non-HEPA vacuum cleaners can simply distribute UFPs around your home.

    What if landlords were required to provide MERV 13 filters – anything with higher filtration is not compatible with most typical residential forced air systems – and HEPA vacuum cleaners (or an allowance for one, by request, if the tenants don’t have one?). I would go even further and research the idea of banning the sale of non-HEPA vacuum cleaners…

      1. darelldd

        I think that might be more difficult and expensive than reducing the problem. But I like your thinking!

        Same sort of logic as installing a pointy metal spike in the middle of every steering wheel, in place of airbags. This would really put one’s choices and actions in to sharp (see what I did there?) focus.

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