Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Air Time: Trapped smoke affects the air you breathe

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

For the next few days, you can help protect your health by cutting back on burning wood to heat your home.

Stagnant weather means the air isn’t moving much in various parts of the state. The air is trapped close to the ground … and so is the smoke produced by burning wood.

We’re in “home heating season” – the time of year when falling temperatures lead to the rising use of wood for home heating.

Burning wood for heat makes some economic sense. And it also has a kind of nostalgic appeal.

But breathing wood smoke poses risks to human health. Read more about how burning wood is risky for people's health and the environment, and about how Ecology and others work to protect public health from smoke.

Already this week, the Olympic Region and Southwest clean air agencies issued warnings about air quality in their territories. Southwest’s warning focused on Lewis County.

I can testify firsthand to the smoke’s impacts in Lewis County. I live in Centralia. Monday evening, as I drove into the city on Interstate 5, the strong smell of wood smoke made me cough and gag. Not fun.

Obviously, you may have to burn wood if that’s your only source of heat. But you can do it responsibly – here’s how:
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Be sure your firewood has been split and dried for at least one year. Store it under cover.

  • Never burn wet, painted, stained or treated wood; colored newsprint; plastic; garbage; diapers; or magazines.

  • Build small fires to help the wood burn completely. Adding too much wood at one time cuts down on the air to the fire and leaves you with unburned wood.

  • Keep your fire hot. Dampering down your stove just cuts off the air, which wastes wood, creates a lot of smoke, and produces very little heat. You can tell if your fire has enough air by checking the smoke coming from your chimney. You should see only heat waves.

  • If you see smoke, increase the air supply to your fire.

  • Make sure your wood stove is the right size for its space. A stove that is too large for the space it is heating will have to be damped down, causing more smoke. Make sure your stove is properly installed.

No comments: