Department of Ecology News Release - October 10, 2012

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Smoke from burning wood to heat homes poses health risks

OLYMPIA – As temperatures drop with the approaching winter, smoke from homes will increase in many Washington communities – including those plagued by smoke from recent wildfires – as residents fire up wood-burning devices to heat their homes.

If you live in an area where air quality is impacted by wildfire smoke and you have another way to heat your home, please think twice before lighting your wood stove or other wood-burning device.

Burning wood can be a cheap way to heat your home if it’s done correctly. But using poor burning habits; wood that has not been dried properly; and old, inefficient devices can lead to burning up more wood – and money. It also produces large amounts of health-damaging wood smoke – one of the most serious air pollution problems in Washington.

Fine particles in smoke are so small they can easily get into your lungs. Once there, they can cause heart and breathing problems, and even death. People with asthma and respiratory illnesses, children and older adults are most at risk.

Health studies show that people who heat their homes with wood have more breathing problems than those who don’t. Smoke particles also invade neighboring homes. Research shows that children in wood-burning neighborhoods are more likely to have lung and breathing problems.

A 2009 analysis estimates that fine particles lead to about 1,100 deaths and $190 million in added health-care costs each year in Washington, according to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology).

Ecology and local clean air agencies team up to help Washingtonians curb wood-smoke pollution. The agencies use burn bans, education and programs that pay part of the cost of replacing old home-heating devices with new, cleaner-burning ones.

How burn bans work

When fine particle pollution reaches unsafe levels, Ecology and local clean air agencies can call county-wide burn bans in their jurisdictions. These bans protect people’s health by limiting wood burning in those areas.

Ecology and the clean air agencies use news media and social media to get out information on burn bans. The information also is available online at waburnbans.net. Ecology post notices about its burn bans on the agency’s website.

Last winter, Ecology issued burn bans in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Kittitas, Okanogan, Stevens, and Walla Walla counties.

Burn bans are called in stages:

Violating a burn ban could lead to penalties, including fines.

During Stage 1 and Stage 2 burn bans, all outdoor burning also is banned, even in areas where outdoor burning isn’t permanently prohibited. The bans include agricultural and forest burning.

Burn dry, clean wood

Wood needs to be stored for at least six months – and better yet, a year – to be dry enough to burn well. Dry wood creates a hotter fire that takes less work and uses wood more efficiently.

Wet or green wood needs more heat to evaporate the higher water content before the wood can burn and give off heat. That means you need to burn nearly twice as much wet wood to generate the kind of heat provided by dry wood. So you spend more money to buy wood, or invest more time and effort to harvest your own.

Here's how can you get the most out of your wood supply:

Burning undried wood – and burning more of it because it’s wet or green – produces more smoke than burning dry wood.

Helpful tools you can use

Ecology’s Air Quality Program has posted useful information about using wood for home heating. Here are a few examples of what you can find:

For more information

WAQA: The Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) is Ecology’s tool for informing people about the health effects of air pollution. It includes information about ground-level ozone, fine particle pollution and carbon monoxide. It’s very similar to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s national information tool, the Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy. The difference is that WAQA shows that air quality is unhealthy earlier – when fewer fine particles are in the air.

Contacts

Ecology Central Regional Office: Call 509-575-2490 for Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat, and Okanogan counties.

Ecology Eastern Regional Office: Call 509-329-3400 for Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman counties.

Ecology Northwest Regional Office: Call 425-649-7000 for San Juan County.

Benton Clean Air Agency: Call 509-783-1304 or see http://www.bcaa.net for Benton County. 

Northwest Clean Air Agency: Call 360-428-1617 for Skagit County or 800-622-4627 for Island and Whatcom counties, or see http://www.nwcleanair.org.

Olympic Region Clean Air Agency: Call 360-586-1044 or 800-422-5623 or see http://www.orcaa.org for Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency: Call the air quality hotline at 800-595-4341 or see http://www.pscleanair.org for King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties.

Southwest Clean Air Agency: Call 360-574-3058 or 800-633-0709 (outside Clark County) or see http://www.swcleanair.org for Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania, and Wahkiakum counties.

Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency: Call 509-477-4727 or see http://www.spokanecleanair.org for Spokane County.

Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency: Call 509-834-2050 or see http://www.yakimacleanair.org for Yakima County.

Washington Department of Health: See http://www.doh.wa.gov for smoke-related health issues.

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Media Contact: Seth Preston, Ecology communications manager, 360-407-6848; 360-584-5744 cell; seth.preston@ecy.wa.gov

For more information: