Tulalip Air Quality Program

Protecting Tulalipís Air Quality, Human Health and the Environment

Woodsmoke and Your Health

Woodsmoke from indoor and outdoor burning is unhealthy, especially for kids and adults with asthma, bronchitis or other lung conditions. Here are some important tips for reducing woodsmoke and burning cleaner fires:

How is woodsmoke unhealthy?

In a conventional fireplace or older woodstove, smoke and fumes such as carbon monoxide are released directly into the air inside and around your home. When cold air is present, invisible particles from the smoke stay close to the ground, penetrating nearby homes and buildings. These particles are so small that when we inhale, they completely bypass our usual defense system - the nose and upper respiratory system. Instead, they lodge deep in the lung tissue, triggering chemical damage and structural changes.

Health impacts range from minor irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, to significant and long-term damage to the cardio-respiratory system.

Wood Smoke Versus Cigarette Smoke

Perhaps one of the most important things to be aware of, however, when considering the safety of your fireplace or woodstove, is the potential for back drafting of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless toxic gas created by incomplete combustion. Back drafting, which brings the toxic gas back into your home, can occur when a fireplace flu is blocked, disconnected or leaking. Carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms (nausea, headache, fatigue) to more serious conditions, such as chest pain or asphyxiation. If you suspect your woodstove or fireplace is not adequately vented, itís good peace of mind to have it serviced and inspected by a professional.

The most vulnerable members of our families are those who have respiratory conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or a heart condition. Infants and children are at risk as well though, even when healthy, since woodsmoke damages their developing lung tissue and can make them more prone to lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

#1 - The fuel: Keep it dry!

Wood can seem dry and still contain plenty of water, up to 50 percent. The moisture in wood makes the fire give off more smoke. On the other hand, dry wood can provide up to 44 percent more heat. Whether you buy wood or harvest your own, the following tips will help you be fire-ready:

#2 - The fuel: Keep it clean!

Dry, untreated wood is legal. Manufactured logs (pressed sawdust or sawdust/wax) are legal, but be careful to follow the product instructions and to follow the recommendations in your stove owner's manual. It is against tribal law, and poses serious health risks, to burn any of the following:

#3 - The fire: Give it air!

The right amount of air gives you a hotter fire and more complete combustion. That translates to more heat from your wood and less smoke and pollution. Here are some cleaner burning tips:

Annual Fine Particle Pollution

# 4 - The stove: Certified is cleaner!

The stove you use makes a major difference when it comes to air pollution. Any stove sold in Washington today (or from 1988 on) must meet certification standards.

Many of us have homes with older stoves, however. Compared to new, properly operated certified models, uncertified stoves:

The amount of fine particle pollution generated from uncertified woodstoves is significantly greater, as shown in the illustration below.

Source: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency

One option is to have your current fireplace retrofitted with a gas insert. If the costs of gas or a certified new stove are unrealistic however, then it is all the more important to make sure the gaskets and seals are in good working condition, that the flu is clean and properly connected and that you are using dry, clean fuel.

If you would like to find out if your stove is certified, you can go on-line and check the specific manufacturer and model, through this website: http://www.orcaa.org/wood-stove-program.

To contact us:

Tulalip Tribes Dept. of Environment
7615 Totem Beach Road
Tulalip, WA 98071