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Health Effects of Wood Smoke - Video Vignette

What could be more Alaskan than heating your home with wood? Let's face it, for us Alaskans, part of the appeal is about self-reliance and connecting to the land.

While many people rely on burning wood to offset the high costs of energy in communities across the state, this approach is not necessarily a healthy one. In fact, it is a dangerous misconception that burning wood is a source of clean fuel. In hundreds of studies in towns across the country, wood smoke exposure has been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, such as infant mortality and low birth weight, lung disease, heart attack, stoke and premature death.

Burning wood produces smoke that is made up of gases and tiny particles. This microscopic pollution - what we call particle matter or PM 2.5, travels through the air for quite a ways, gets into the eyes and is so small that it lodges into the deep parts of the lungs, which can result in reduced lung function, cancer and even premature death. Wood smoke contains several harmful air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and methane.

Some Alaskans are at an even higher risk. Pregnant women exposed to wood smoke also expose their unborn babies to developmental and reproductive effects, including infant mortality and low birth weight. Senior citizens and infants are also at an increased risk, along with anyone who already struggles with lung and heart conditions.

Those who have lived in areas with high particle levels for many years are at greater risk for serious respiratory effects like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. They also have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and heart arrhythmia because the tiny particles can get into the blood stream and enter the body's circulation system. Even short-term exposure to wood smoke for days or even hours, can aggravate lung disease, asthma and bronchitis, increasing the chance of developing respiratory infections.

The amount of wood smoke you are exposed to and the levels of harmful chemicals in the smoke depends on whether the wood is burning hot or smoldering, how quickly the smoke rises and spreads, and the amount of time you spend breathing wood smoke indoors and outdoors. While newer, EPA-approved wood burning stoves produce less particle matter and gases, they are still a concern and you need to understand your risk factor and what you can to do make a difference in the air quality in your home and in your community.

Burn wise and breathe easy by burning the right wood, the right way, in the right stove. For more tips on burning wisely visit Burn Wise Alaska.