Wendy Harris’ Research on Wood Smoke/ Noisy Waters Northwest

fireplace delusion

February 1, 2016  Dena Jensen

As most folks who visit the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group are aware, Wendy Harris, who manages that Facebook group has done a great deal of research on wood smoke and wood burning over the course of the last couple months.  She has shared her opinion and findings about this topic and what it means for the environment here in Whatcom County on Whatcom Hawk, and now I am offering an assemblage of those posts and their links here on Noisy Waters Northwest for easy access.  I am doing this especially in light of the ongoing Comprehensive Plan Update, in case it helps any concerned citizens formulate comments to the County Council regarding wood smoke and wood burning and also because the Port of Bellingham is considering approval of a wood pellet manufacturing plant in Bellingham.

Note: An ellipsis […] denotes that a longer post is truncated.  You can view the full post on Facebook by clicking the link provided, as long as you are logged into your Facebook account.


birds found deadThis is what global collapse looks like. Yeah, that is right. It is starting to happen right now. Sorry to interrupt… please go back to your discussion about the need for a wood pellet export plant so that more people can burn more wood products.

wood pellets 360Tell the port of Bellingham they can keep their wood pellet plans because we do not need anymore deadly CO2 emissions here in Bellingham

wood pellets 360 2It appears that the port is quite serious in its consideration of a wood pellet manufacturing plant in Bellingham. One of the most troubling things I have learned is that people have died both in homes and in industrial settings where they were overcome by the CO2 off gassing.[…]

air pollutionDo not think that any of this is connected to wood smoke? Think again. All of this, no matter the specifics and the city, is about those PM 2.5 particulates, the very small particulates that creep into our homes and our lungs. That is what wood smoke and traffic emissions have in common, the size of the particulate produced, and why they are both considered our greatest source of disease in Whatcom County.[…]

wood shedAnyone see a problem with this solution? In Columbia valley, an area of non attainment of federal air quality standards, the solutioh of the NWCAA is to deliver free woodsheds so that, in theory, wood can cure better. This is a disproved science. Voluntary bans, free woodsheds and public education area not working. We need some serious regulations. People are getting sick and dying.

dioxinsApparently, I am not impressing too many people with all this information on the dangers and lack of regulation regarding wood smoke. How about this? Backyard burns produce more dioxin than industrial incinerators, and they are completely unregulated. Says who? EPA.

How ineffective are new EPA rules on wood burning devices? How much industry influence played into the new rules? Here is what the EPA states:Heaters not covered by the rule:
The final rule applies to newly manufactured heaters; it does not affect existing woodstoves and other wood-burning heaters currently in use in people’s homes.[…]

Care About Climate Change?
Then you should care about burning wood, because despite everything we have been told, it is not a carbon neutral act.
The 2007 Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consisting of approximately 2,000 scientists, concluded that black carbon soot, which is a major component of wood combustion, is a significant “forcer” of global warming.[…]

Lack of natural gas service is no longer an excuse to have to burn wood.
From a report from Families for Clean Air99: “The reliance on wood burning for home heating in these areas is rationalized on the basis that the cost of electric heat or propane is too expensive. This rationale has even held sway with air quality regulators, who have exempted areas not serviced with natural gas from wood burning restrictions on days when the air quality is poor or predicted to be poor.[…]

clean air watchIndustry is trying to push back on even the inadequate updated standards proposed by the EPA, with the potential for litigation if the EPA refuses to compromise. I am fed up with corporations motivated only by profits having more control over our government than the public. That is why it is so important for people to speak out to their elected officials in the house and senate and to pressure state officials to enforce the standards in place, and to pressure local officials to to close loopholes and tighten regulations for the protection of all.

wood stove smokeIn light of the state’s inability to act, we need to start putting pressure on local and county government.

smoke videoThe information in this 2015 video by Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment contains the damning facts for why your neighbor’s wood smoke makes YOU the victim.As urban density increases, so does the health impacts. The laws we have now are simply inadequate because they are almost impossible to enforce. Now is the time to contact the Northwest Clean Air Agency, the county and the cities and ask for bans on outdoor fireplaces, and much greater restrictions on indoor fireplaces and stoves.[…]

utah physiciansPregnant? Planning on it in the future? Then this video is a must listen for you. Wood smoke endangers your baby.That is why we need to think about burning wood as an environmental justice issue and a civil rights issue. If a corporation was causing as much harm to human health as wood smoke, our entire community would be protesting. What makes it different when the source of the harm are your neighbors?

Because the increased coal and oil train traffic is not enough, the port, perhaps with the informal approval of the mayor, is considering allowing 20 acres near the Bellingham Shipping Terminal to be used to export logs and wood chips to Asia to to burn for energy. It is estimated this would bring about 50-150 trucks to Bellingham Bay each day. […]

The City and County Are Assisting In Your Murder
Increasingly, wood burning is being seen as more than just a health issue. It is being seen as civil rights issue. Given the clear, potentially deadly impacts from a neighbor’s fire, why are those who burn wood given greater rights than the victims that their activities create?
Think about this and then think about how neither the county nor the city have restrictions on how many homes in a given area may burn wood, or whether wood may be burned outside for recreational enjoyment. There is no consideration of air flow and wind patterns, nor are residents with pre-existing health problems given any assistance or special protection.[…]

The very small size of the particulate emissions and high levels of PAH from wood smoke may account for its excessive toxicity compared to fossil fuel generated PM. Ultrafine particles are more potent in inducing inflammatory responses than fine particles (19,20,21,22). Wood smoke produces high levels of free radicals, DNA damage as well as inflammatory and oxidative stress responses in gene expression in cultured human cells

Wood smoke is an extremely toxic, public health hazard. It contains over 200 chemicals and compound groups. The emissions are almost entirely in the inhalable size range (10). Components of wood smoke are very similar to those in cigarette smoke. They include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, formadehyde, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(11). Furthermore, like with cigarettes, those who are doing the wood burning, are the most victimized by the pollution generated.

“The largest single source of outdoor fine particles (PM2.5) entering into our homes in many American cities is our neighbor’s fireplace or wood stove. ….only a few hours of wood burning in a single home at night can raise fine particle concentrations in dozens of surrounding homes throughout the neighborhood and cause PAH concentrations higher than 2,000 ng/m3.” (Dr. Wayne Ott, Stanford University, Feb. 1, 1998)

An important concept in pollution and public health is that of population “intake fraction.” Intact fraction is the mass of pollutant inhaled divided by the mass emitted. Obviously, regarding health consequences, what is inhaled is what matters, much more so than what is emitted. Two different pollution sources with comparable emission rates of the same pollutant can have significantly different intake fractions, depending on the surrounding population density and the juxtaposition of the point of release. Wood smoke has a uniquely high intake fraction.[…]

Source apportionment studies have estimated that wood/biomass combustion contribute 10-40% of the fine particle concentrations (PM2.5) in large cities such as Seattle, Phoenix, Beijing, Prague and Helsinki (1,2,3,4). In Pierce County, Washington, 53% of PM2.5 comes from wood.

According to the California Air Resources Board the inhalable particle pollution from one woodstove is equivalent to the amount emitted from 3,000 gas furnaces producing the same amount of heat per unit. While so called EPA certified wood stoves may be cleaner, they still cannot begin to approach the emissions level of a natural gas furnace.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District estimates that more than $1billion of medical expenses are caused by burning wood smoke in the Bay Area, including this calculation–one wood fire can cost your next door neighbor as much as $40 in medical expenses.

Given the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding a burgeoning, primarily human caused climate crisis, it is also important to consider the carbon footprint of wood burning. A 2010 study concluded that the amount of carbon released per unit of energy produced is actually greater for wood than it is for fossil fuels. It is a common misconception that burning wood is carbon neutral. Considering the entire carbon life cycle of wood, burning releases carbon now when we can least afford to do so, carbon that would have otherwise been stored for decades or perhaps centuries.[…]

Medical research is well established that air pollution emitted into the community airshed when levels are relatively low has as much, or even greater health impacts than when PM or ozone concentrations are higher. In fact plotting a curve correlating sudden cardiac death (the signature outcome of PM exposure), vs. concentration of PM, yields a curve whose steepest part is at the lowest doses (31). In other words eliminating wood burning during what is called a “green” burn day is likely to have greater public health benefit, than during a “red burn” day. This is not factored into NAAQS, but it is nonetheless an important concept in public health protection.

Wood burning is also the third largest source of dioxin exposure in the US (28). Dioxins are one of the most intensely toxic compounds that humans are ever exposed to. Dioxins, and many of the other chemicals in wood smoke, are exactly the type of chemicals that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine addressed in a prepared statement last week, stating,
“Reducing exposure to toxic environmental agents is a critical area of intervention for obstetricians, gynecologists, and other reproductive health care professionals.[…]

Free radicals produced from wood smoke are chemically active for twenty minutes. In contrast tobacco smoke free radicals are chemically active for thirty seconds. Wood smoke free radicals may attack our bodies cells up to forty times longer once inhaled (26). Animal toxicology studies show that wood smoke exposure can disrupt cellular membranes, depress macrophage activity, destroy ciliated and secretory respiratory epithelial cells and cause aberrations in biochemical enzyme levels (27).

The EPA estimates that the lifetime cancer risk from wood stove smoke is twelve times greater than that from an equal volume of second hand tobacco smoke. (The Health Effects of Wood Smoke, Washington State Department of Ecology). Burning two cords of wood produces the same amount of mutagenic particles as driving 13 gasoline powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon or driving 2 diesel powered cars 10,000 miles each @ 30 miles/gallon (24).

Feb. 16, 2015 Another recent study compared daily hospital admissions and death rates related to cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases among two cities in South America where one city’s pollution was predominantly from wood smoke and another was from mobile and typical point sources. Compared to the non-wood burning city, the city with primarily wood smoke experienced an increase of 47% for cardiorespiratory deaths, and an increase of 104% for respiratory hospital admissions for every 10 ug/m3 increase in PM10[…]

This is why we need more monitoring stations instead of recommended voluntary actions not to burn wood when there is air stagnation, especially where it has gone on for days and days. Air quality is very localized and can change dramatically within a few blocks. If you have neighbors who are burning lots of wood, you may be in a area of unhealthy air quality, while neighbors blocks away, depending on air flow patterns, may not be experiencing air quality problems?[…]

This just freaking amazes me. We have more people burning more wood at more times of the year than ever before, in addition to out of control summer forest fires, and pollutants traveling over from the other side of the planet, and the NWCAA manages to give themselves a big pat on the back for a job well done!.
They state that diesel exhaust is being reduced over time, without any consideration of the proliferating amount of new train traffic carrying explosive oil and coal dust. (Hint: that may be a factor in the amount of diesel exhaust being sucked down by every resident and tourist in our fair county.)[…]

I can think of two important goals that I would like to see added to the Comp. Plan: Social Justice and Air Quality. Those are both things are not being adequately addressed, and which the county has the ability to affect.
Social justice issues are common in our urban areas where lower income housing is being built near freeways, despite new and growing science establishing deisel exhaust as the primary risk of cancer for residents in Puget Sound, and for Puget Sound residents to be at higher risks that the general population nationally.[…]

There are several recent studies that support these conclusions, which were reviewed by the NWCAA, “The value of this data is that it shows patterns of health risk associated with air pollutants across broad geographic areas,” said Northwest Clean Air Agency Executive Director Mark Asmundson. “It can help regulators, health officials, policymakers, scientists, businesses and the public focus on reducing people’s exposure to air pollution.”[…]

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