Friday, May 7, 2010

Air Time: We're not blowing smoke about dangers of breathing wood smoke

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

This is Air Quality Awareness Week throughout the nation, so in recognition of that, Ecology’s Air Quality Program is offering a look this week at some key Washington air issues.

Ecology and local clean air agencies are taking a number of steps to deal with wood smoke, one of the main sources of air pollution in Washington.

Wood stoves, fireplaces and other wood-burning devices put out hundreds of times more air pollution than other sources of heat such as natural gas or electricity.

The most dangerous material in wood smoke may be the fine particles that make up the smoke and soot. Many of these particles are toxic. Most are so small that they are easily breathed deep into your lungs, where they can cause serious health problems.

Studies show that death rates in several U.S. cities increased when there were higher levels of fine particles in the air. An Ecology analysis estimates that fine particles contribute to about 1,100 deaths each year in Washington.

The same analysis estimates that the direct and indirect costs of illnesses linked to breathing fine particles approach $190 million each year.

Wood smoke is most dangerous to the health of infants and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with lung or heart disease.

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