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Air Quality Program

Air Pollution and Health

Air pollution causes serious health problems, especially for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with respiratory and heart diseases. Air pollution also makes healthy people more likely to have health problems.

Recent studies have shown that some air pollutants cause decreased lung function, increased symptoms of respiratory irritation, increased use of asthma medications, and increased hospitalization for asthma. These things all occur even when levels of some air pollutants meet federal health standards. Exposure to some kinds of air pollution has been linked to increased deaths and higher rates of lung cancer.

This page contains links to studies on air pollution and health, as well as a link to daily pollen counts, which can affect people with asthma and allergies.

Wood Smoke and Health

Wood smoke contains fine particles, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants.  Fine particles are one of the most dangerous kinds of pollution, because they can be carried deep into the lungs, where they cause serious health problems such as asthma, lung disease, heart disease, and death.  These particles can also increase the risk of certain types of cancer.  Breathing smoke is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung problems.  It is estimated that fine particle air pollution costs citizens of Washington State hundreds of millions of dollars each year in health care costs and lost productivity due to illness.

Breathing air containing wood smoke can:

  • reduce lung function, especially in children
  • worsen existing lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and bronchitis;
  • aggravate heart disease;
  • increase the chances of getting lower respiratory diseases
  • irritate eyes, lungs, throat and sinuses; and
  • trigger headaches and allergies.

Long term exposure to wood smoke may lead to:

  • lung disease;
  • chronic bronchitis;
  • increased risk of cancer and genetic mutations (based on animal studies); and
  • heart disease.

While all smoke is harmful, outdoor wood boilers create more fine particle pollution than indoor wood stoves.  Outdoor wood boilers are designed to burn wood at lower combustion temperatures and generally have shorter stacks, which emit smoke closer to homes and neighborhoods. 

Health Care Provider Information

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