Neighbors of wood-burning households frequently experience worsened health and a reduced quality of life. The following are stories that people have shared about how wood smoke in their communities has affected them.
Please use the form below to tell us your own wood smoke pollution story.
I haven’t been able to go outside for a walk with my dog at night the entire winter in Davis, California. I have an asthma attack every night even if I go to the car to get something out. Wood smoke is an astonishingly strong noxious particulate.
My husband suffers from occupational rhinitis as a result of teaching woodwork in school. Wood smoke is now also a real problem worsening the rhinitis and causing ear problems.
We have moved from a suburban village, as everyone seemed to be installing a wood burner, to the countryside. Although our nearest neighbour is a field away we still can smell wood smoke. People seem to be constantly having bonfires in the fields. We feel desperate, always trying to avoid wood smoke.
As a scientist I cannot believe that the majority of medical doctors seem totally ignorant of the dangers of wood smoke. How can it be recognised that tobacco smoke is bad but wood smoke is okay?
We recently went for a day out to a small Shropshire town and the wood smoke pollution was so bad we had to leave almost immediately. Fortunately we are only renting at present so can move on but we have no idea where to go to minimise our exposure to wood smoke.
I have lived in a village in the Oxfordshire (UK) countryside for almost 20 years. Since I moved here, several wood-burners have been installed in neighbouring houses and now, instead of relatively clean air, we have acrid fumes polluting our air especially in cold weather. There are no laws against (or even limiting) this pollution and, though my MP has shown some concern, the government appears to consider these filthy stoves in a positive light on the grounds of sustainability.
We live in “the Pristine Gulf Islands of Beautiful Natural British Columbia” where people are truly misguided about how “natural” burning wood is. We had been enjoying country life, but the wood smoke is a true killer. We had NO IDEA it would be this BAD.
We feel trapped. I hate having to wear masks, or miss being outdoors on a sunny day; I am being robbed of my own health — by others. I cannot defend myself from this toxic weapon.
We have been suffering from wood smoke for the last 6 years. It is worst when the winds turn southerly as there are several neighbours with log burners along the terraced houses. The smoke gets inside the house and we have considered moving, but one doesn’t know if the situation is worse in other areas. I am following tweets from active campaigners but without government support there is not much one can do to improve the situation. We have noticed bleeds and sensitive linings of our noses. I sold our diesel car years ago thinking it gave me asthma when it is most likely the wood smoke that is to blame.
I live in the Netherlands in a densely populated neighborhood, where the level of air pollution has increased dramatically over the last years due to the burning of wood. The government is aware of the problem, but only provides some useless “tips and tools” to avoid wood smoke annoyance or damage. There are no appropriate laws or regulations, apart from the prohibition of burning trash.
In fact, burning wood for residential heating never was a tradition in the Netherlands. We burned coal, until natural gas reserves were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s. Successively most people were connected to the natural gas grid, which was possible since the country is small and consists of densely populated urban areas. The use of clean gas led to a significant improvement in public health. People who owned a wood stove or a fireplace used these only occasionally, on weekends or on holidays. But since wood burning became really fashionable, lots of people have installed one. Also they are promoted as “natural,” “carbon-neutral” and of course “sustainable” and “renewable.” The government even has introduced financial incentives to buy pellet stoves, because our country has trouble meeting the EU’s targets for renewable energy.
Now, 20 to 25% of the Dutch households own a wood stove, some of which are operated all day. Wood stoves are responsible for 26% of the total amount of fine particles in the Dutch atmosphere. This is comparable with the contribution of all road traffic. The Netherlands are much too densely populated to allow large scale wood burning, and recent developments have led to a dangerous decrease of air quality in a lot of residential neighbourhoods. The awareness of health hazards due to ultrafine particles and poisonous and carcinogenic woodsmoke is very low. There are no public campaigns. There is no change-out program. Almost all “education” comes from groups of concerned citizens and the Dutch Lung Association. Few people associate inhaling woodsmoke with passive smoking. My husband and I are surrounded by at least 10 wood stoves. We taped our doors and windows and we invested in several air purifiers with HEPA and charcoal filters. This situation has affected our health and our well-being to the core.
I live on 5 acres in a suburb of Orlando. The last few years we have noticed a dramatic increase in neighborhood smoke that is so thick you can taste it. We have whole house HEPA filters, plus 3 mobile HEPA filters, but it’s not enough. We also tape the doors and run the bathroom and AC fans. It is starting to affect my health, and we are desperate for a solution.
I can’t breathe all winter, can’t afford to move, being driven out of our home of twenty years. We didn’t invite neighbours’ deadly woodsmoke into our home, any more than we invite tobacco smokers into our home. What can we do? We’ve spent the little money we have on sealing the house, buying air cleaners, safety masks, even driving away on a cold winter night to huddle in our car praying the wind will change. Not even a letter from my doctor was regarded either.
I get severe migraine headaches and nosebleeds from my neighbor’s chimney smoke. They use their chimney every night. Even when the windows were tightly closed, the smoke got in. I could smell smoke in my bedroom. It made my pillows and bedding smell. I wound up taping thick plastic over the windows inside my apartment and over my door as soon as I return home. I wish I could afford to move.
I live in Quebec and am surrounded by “granola” type self-righteous hypocrites. Not that long ago a law was passed against tobacco smoke and vaporizers. Any law that protects persons against harm from others is good. Why then do the same people who back laws against combustible material measured in grams feel it is OK to load tonnes of wood into their fireplaces and wood stoves?
I try to run up the hill to the Lodge in the morning at a major local ski resort and am choked by useless outdoor wood fireplaces. (Ambience for the city-folk I suppose). Wouldn’t want them have to breathe clean air now, would we? Take a visit to the local spa and get a good whiff of the same toxic stench from their charming outdoor fireplaces. Try to go for a cross-country ski on a crisp night and drop down a hill into the village only to literally find my eyes burning. One particular morning there was actually a mushroom cloud [of wood smoke] from the commercial green houses at the local nursery.
Worst of all , I wake up every morning and blow my nose to see black on the Kleenex. I usually have a headache and feel tired even though not having a drink the night before. My neighbor has a chimney 15 feet from my house and burns about 20 cords a year from late August to June. (Doesn’t spend $$ on insulation as I do, I guess.) It just seems like the vast majority of otherwise intelligent people have been brain-washed and can’t recognize such a deadly problem. Oh well, I guess we will all have to get sick and die a slow crappy death. Hopefully the next generation won’t be so blind. I am looking for solutions, but so far people look at me like I am from outer-space when I complain. “Teach Your Children Well” — CSNY
We bought our house from our neighbor in 2007, with him taking a chunk out of the property line for a future garage. Had we known what he was planning on heating with we would not have bought the house. So for 9 years we lived in peace and had no air issues except randomly in the summer having to shut off a.c’s because of other neighbors’ outside campfires.
Then the neighbor built his garage and we saw the smoke stack… 15.7 feet away from my house, overlooking my yard because he had notched out part of the property line upon the sale of the house, and directly across from my deck doors leading to out back where my dog and children play. It’s not even a real garage — it is a wrestling gym with mats, weights, sauna, lawn mower, leaf blower, weed eater, gasoline… He has $$ cuz he also has a brand new in-ground heated pool…
He said he heats with wood because he gets it for free on his land… But I digress… The garage changed the wind pattern and now we can smell smoke from other places in town too that we didn’t even know had woodstoves. And the smoke from his stove pipe starts black for 10–15 minutes and then also swirls between the garage and my house for hours whenever he burns (he lights it with paper and embers have landed on my roof!!!). His response when told the smoke — not just smell — was in our house was that the garage was his dream and he would heat it with whatever source he wanted…. Cuz we don’t have a dream for our family, we just bought this house for giggles… ?
D.E.C had mistakenly given us hope that he would have to stop as his smoke is violating 2 D.E.C codes and village nuisance codes, but the village says he’s not (that code about smoke entering another’s property is “basically/usually” referring to outdoor wood fires — is what I was told. Even though the code doesn’t use those words basically/usually or outdoor wood fire… Just noxious odors, smoke, gaseous emissions, etc.) and the village said that D.E.C would have to enforce the 2 D.E.C codes but D.E.C says the village has to… So we have spent tons of $$ sealing our house… During the summer he also uses a big belly smoker right next to our property line and it blows under our newly installed deck roof! If we hadn’t just lost two jobs and now have 3 small boys and 1 income we would try to move. Fun times here in NY.
Of the nine wood stoves that have cropped up in my area, the worst by far is the one next door, which belongs to a North Cowichan Wood Stove Exchange recipient. This neighbour’s volume of smoke doubled and I thought he was having a chimney fire, when he relayed to me the good news that he had a brand new stove courtesy of North Cowichan!
I live in Santa Barbara and a large hotel, the Santa Barbara Inn, has a wood burning pizza oven and I have been complaining for a year to no avail. The manager tries to buy me off with a free meal. Otherwise, I have to keep my windows shut the entire day. A county air official agrees with me but says he can’t do anything unless there are a certain amount of complaints. Problem being, no one knows where smoke is coming from because it’s not visible.
NYSDEC and Cuomo won’t address citizen complaints against neighbors who use INDOOR wood boilers. Indoor units are worse than the outdoor units. Here is a link to A PBS DOCUMENTARY on four families in New York state. Tell Cuomo to start addressing this:
We enjoy our life RVing around the country, often with our friends. I am the only one in our group that has to forfeit the fellowship around the campfire. I simply cannot tolerate the smoke and particles that fly from the fire. It blinds me, I have trouble breathing. It sure isn't anything I can enjoy. Thank you for letting me share this.
The common belief is that wood burning in fireplaces are only used a few times a year. However, for our neighbours (stay at home moms) lighting a fire was a morning ritual and the fires were kept burning all day and into the night. It is no use complaining to the local council as they have a record around the globe of doing nothing, but angry neighbours have been known to vandalize your home or car. The other problem is section 29 of the Real Estate Act (Canada) where one has to declare any problems with the property; then finding a buyer is difficult. We just moved out and hope we do not again have wood burning neighbours. I ran an analysis of chemicals in the air and there were significant levels of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein and benzene plus a range of PAHs. The filters were blackened by wood smoke. Overall pollution was literally 100 times the city’s background level.
I'm a long-term severe environmental asthma/COPD sufferer (no allergies, never smoked cigs.). I have a hard time. I attribute my illness to living (abroad) for several years in a street full of ardent wood-burners, esp. a huge high-tech one right next-door. Made me very ill and despite moving back to UK and lots of meds. etc., I have not recovered.
I cough and wheeze all the time and my life is very quiet now — away from places and people — even loved ones who don’t understand why I can't make long visits and go places with them. My sore lungs/sinuses are badly irritated now by diesel too (of course), scented products, farm slurry, VOCs — and lots more — but, for me, smoke is the worst. It could kill me so I lead a quiet life (15 years on a nebuliser).
But I have a very dear husband so that’s just as well and I count my blessings daily. I don't want countless others to get sick in this way — our lungs are so important. If you can’t breathe you can’t do much else, you can’t help others, you can’t have fun, you can’t make a contribution to daily life, you can’t work very often either (I lost my career because of this).
But, as you know, sick lungs don’t show and there are people out there who just don’t accept what we are saying, and pleading, about the noxious effects of wood smoke. They need to be educated — because even these new high-tech wood stoves & burners are just going to make the air worse. Far worse. And, here in UK, wood burning (esp. biomass) has become political. There are some at top levels who are actively promoting wood burning which makes me worried, sad and upset. I know from personal experience how bad it can get, when your lungs are ruined.
All this wood burning is a bad mistake, a step backwards. Even when you can’t see the smoke it still hangs in the air and it gets into our homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, etc. There is no way that wood smoke, of any kind, in any amount, is either “clean” or “pure”. Wood smoke is a Class A Carcinogen (W.H.O.) and it induces asthma and bronchitis. I’ve heard that it may also exacerbate heart disease and diabetes. Just as we were (wrongly) told that diesel cars were worth getting, we are now being told to buy wood stoves. Don’t, you will regret it. They’re not economic either & they will make you ill.
Here in UK at least (and rest of Europe?) no one checks what anyone is burning. We’re on our own here. To my mind, having to inhale someone else’s wood smoke is just like passive cigarette smoking. It is NOT my choice. Unlike the person burning the wood, I don’t have a choice if I live in that street.
So I feel I have a responsibility to speak up, and that is why I’m joining you.
I am a 68 year old senior Vietnam Era Veteran. I live in Lakeside, California. I have lived in my house for over 20 some years in peace, until new neighbors moved in. They love to burn wood out in their patio next to the fence we share. I live downwind, so all the smoke comes to me. It gets in the house, attic and garage. I asked them to burn on the other side of the yard or use fans to blow the smoke away from me. So I wrote them and asked them one more time . . . They wrote me back and said I was a hypochondriac.
The smoke burns my eyes, my throat and it makes it hard to breathe. Also, I get terrible coughing spells from the smoke. I went to the fire station and they said to file a complaint with the Sheriff's office. Went there and they said there was nothing I could do. They're burning in legal equipment. One is a barbecue with no lid and the other is like a little pot belly stove and the smoke comes out the top.
So now I have bought fans and put them all along the fence trying to blow the smoke back to them. Also, the smoke from their chimney burning in the winter blows right to my house. They don't even have a spark arrester.
I feel so helpless and wish someone could help me. I read there are nuisance laws, but you would need a lawyer to enforce it, and I can't really afford that.
This makes me sick! I cannot believe we live in a developed country and have to be forced to breathe in wood smoke from a neighbor.
We just bought our home. Our “dream” country home. Only to find out that we were about to be engulfed in smoke almost every day. I was hospitalized last week for anaphylaxis after walking out of my front door into my neighbor’s thick smoke from their outdoor wood boiler! Had to be given epinephrine to breathe! It is only 75 feet away from my house.
Their kid is sick now … and is probably going to die. Started out with a “sinus infection” that progressed to coughing up blood, and now a rare autoimmune vasculitis! Several weeks after putting it in. So sad! They just won’t put two and two together! There aren’t any ordinances in this township against them. It’s ridiculous.
We are going to have to move … I cry about the money we worked so hard for and how we will lose it all, but they can kill their children and themselves with benzene and particulate matter … but I am not going to let them kill mine!! I wonder if they are going to put that on their child’s headstone! Killed by us because we wanted to save some money!! There is a special place in hell for people like that!
I live in Kitchener, Ontario a city which permits recreational backyard bonfires … with certain conditions applied. There is a lack of education on both the health risks associated with wood smoke, and the by-law requirements. When my neighbours have fires (usually nightly) I am forced to close all my windows, which often results in the inside temperature reaching 35 degrees or more, making it very uncomfortable for us. If the fire is close by, we experience burning, watering eyes, sore throats, and headaches which persist for hours into the following day.
On two occasions, city council was presented with evidence against wood fires by the Medical Officer of Health who recommended a total ban. They chose to ignore these recommendations, instead pandering to the burners who claim that gathering around a fire “builds community” among neighbours. What it does in reality is build animosity, with some burners becoming verbally abusive when neighbours ask them to extinguish their fires (under by-law provisions) and then going out of their respective way to create more smoke more often as retaliation. It really can get out of hand!
The policing of fires is carried out by by-law officers, and is a low priority. Often they respond after the fire is extinguished, so there is no investigation or examination of the premises to ensure they conform to the conditions set forth in the by-law. A very disappointing and discouraging situation, particularly considering that the surrounding municipalities do not allow open burning!
Use of wood for heating has been increasing in our area and smoke in our neighborhood was so bad that we had to move. The local Board of Health did not feel they could help. Although the situation is better now, only strict regulations will ensure that we will be free to live where we choose.
I am one of those in the sensitive group. I am down to 52 % of lung function due to environmental factors and disease. When I try to get out and walk up LCC for some fresh air and exercise I have to turn around part way up as the wood smoke begins to affect my breathing. What I don’t understand is that as soon as the air quality turns green people begin to make it worse by burning wood. Then people like me can’t get out to enjoy those days either. This issue is my biggest concern with air quality.
I had to move out of my house — I was constantly coughing, sore throat, itching eyes, nausea, fatigue — the usual effects of smoke exposure. The outdoor wood furnace destroying my quality of life is a Central Boiler E1450. I would love show you a short video: https://www.facebook.com/karenmccandless.baines/videos/o.93534001470/1287249268001764/?type=2&theater
The Public Health Officer's response: “We are entirely satisfied this is safe,” but they would no doubt feel differently if they had to breath it in 24/7 … I'm trying to take this to Court to obtain an abatement order — the owner couldn't care less — he is being paid a Renewable Heat Incentive paid in accordance with the amount of wood burned — so he has hooked up a second home and now burns twice as much wood. His defence is that this is on the RHI approved appliance list. This is surely not what was invisioned when this scheme was set up. This is filthy air pollution. But there is no monitoring of emissions and my County Council refuse to take measurements or responsibility — has the world gone mad? Getting Health Officers to understand woodsmoke pollution is a real challenge, and it shouldn't be. My house is, of course, unsellable. We must keep educating and demanding action. I'm in West Wales and these furnaces are popping up everywhere. Please keep spreading awareness.
Years ago I began noticing intense eye burning and tissue/bone pain at seemingly random times of the year. I thought it was allergies to pollen. Over time, I began to notice the symptoms coincided with the smell of smoke.
Fast forward to 2016, and I'm now a full asthmatic borderline COPD, who has discovered that the upwind neighbors use wood to heat their home and cook their meals. I have four inhalers, prednisone for emergency situations (frequent in the winter), and my quality of life is a cycle driven entirely by the weather. Temperatures drop? Neighbors up their burning to 24/7, and my lungs/eyes/connective tissue begin to suffer. If temperatures stay low for weeks at a time (Jan, Feb, Mar), I sometimes get so buried by the chronic health issues resulting directly from smoke exposure, that secondary infections and complications arise.
I've tried moving, and sometimes you get lucky for a while, but wood burning is so prevalent that eventually a new neighbor gets excited about summer fire pits or wood stoves or bonfires. I tried living near the beach only to discover beach fire pits were driving local residents (and myself) to demand restrictions due to incessant smoke inhalation.
Ideally we'd have national laws to help with this, but it's virtually impossible at this point. Too many people don't care about the issue because their lungs are still good enough that they don't notice. It's not until they get older or develop asthma/COPD that it becomes an issue. With that in mind, we need smoke-free neighborhoods. Some place where asthmatics and those who don't want to shorten their life from smoke can get together and decide enough is enough: this is a smoke-free safe zone. That would be a start. I'd move there. Finding work might be a challenge, but you have to start somewhere.
To those who are suffering, be sure you have a bunch of prednisone 10mg, and make sure you understand the risks. You can take it for a few days, but you must taper off (max 4 pills a day, then taper down to 1 before stopping). Never take it for multiple weeks then stop suddenly (you can die from that). But it is better than a trip to the ER, and it can buy you enough time to get packed and go to a hotel. I'm thinking of renting a room in the winter to go stay when the smoke gets bad, and hopefully find a roommate living somewhere that's tolerable. It's a sad solution, but it beats prolonged smoke inhalation. Hang in there everyone. We're living in our own sort of medieval age on this issue.
During the winter months air quality is a real problem in Cowichan Valley, British Columbia.
I have asthma. During the winter of 2014/15 air quality within the Chemainus air shed became so bad I had to leave town looking for air where I could breathe. I was unable to sleep for 3 days due to the anxiety experienced from the inability to breathe. I was in to see my doctor weekly trying to cope.
In total I left Chemainus on three different occasions, for several days to reduce my anxiety. Thankfully communities up Island have much cleaner air conditions.
At the end of it all I was forced to sell my home and move away. I now live in Osoyoos and have not experienced a single asthmatic event in 1½ winters.
The single most responsible source of smoke in my neighborhood was wood burning stoves. I have shared pictures on just how bad the situation was.
Persons looking to move into the area must be made aware of the risk they are placing on their well being by moving into the Cowichan Valley.
Hello, Canadian friends. Many of you come to Arizona in the winter to escape the cold. Unfortunately, in the winter months the pollution from wood burning can be significant and it’s not unusual for the Phoenix area to have levels that are the worst in the entire nation.
Rates of asthma and other respiratory issues are high — over 750,000 people have asthma in AZ. There are more than 4.5 million people living in the Phoenix Metro area. We are in a Valley surrounded by mountains with little rain fall or wind and experience inversions so pollution gets trapped and can increase rapidly. If only a small percentage of 4.5 million people burn wood in this densely populated area, you can see how it becomes a serious health issue.
Wood burning is a choice and not a necessity, especially in the desert where our temperatures in the winter months are mild. Still many argue that it’s their right to burn for enjoyment, which they think trumps the ability for others to breathe.
The frustrating thing is this type of pollution could so easily be controlled but no one wants to take a stand to fix the issue. Denver, CO has taken a step in the right direction by banning fire pits. There are clean options of gas and electric heating. I take this more seriously in part because I suffer from asthma and allergies and have difficulty breathing when the pollution from smoke is high. It affects me to a much greater degree than high ozone levels, which we also experience in the summer months. Additionally, I’m allergic to mesquite, which is a type of wood that many in the area chose to burn. There is research that suggests this type of wood is especially toxic and commonly causes allergic reactions.
The rate of lung cancer is increasing and there’s evidence to suggest that pollution is a contributor. I personally know of two people in the Phoenix area who have never smoked and have battled lung cancer. This is not a political issue but a health issue that affects everyone — Democrats, Republicans, Independents, all races, religions, etc.
Maricopa County is trying a pilot fireplace retrofit program this year and hopefully it will help. However, it’s time to take bolder steps to address this issue. NYC, San Francisco, Denver, Montreal and other cities are looking to take more aggressive steps but how long will it be before we see real change?
This is also an expensive health issue. Asthma-related hospitalizations in AZ accounted for more than $262 million in charges in 2013. Until real change occurs, I check current pollution levels using airnow.gov as the local forecasts aren’t accurate. They take a 24 hour average, which can make the levels appear to be in compliance even when we experience extremely unhealthy levels that exceed national averages during various times of the day such as in the morning and evening hours. I stay indoors as I can when pollution levels are high and wear a mask when I’m outside. Sometimes the levels are so high I need to wear a mask indoors as well even though I have two air purifiers. Interestingly, I experience ectopic heartbeats that take my breath away when pollution levels are especially high and this is something my doctor has confirmed as it occurred during an appointment. When the levels are low, this doesn’t occur.
I’ve created a FB page to encourage people to stop wood burning, passed out flyers in my neighborhood, created a bumper sticker that says, “Spare the air, choose not to burn” which I hope plants some seeds as I’m driving around. I've contacted local, state, non-profit, and national government agencies and the media to encourage them to address the issue but it’s mostly fallen on deaf ears. For those of us with asthma, the battle never stops so I continue the fight for myself and the many others who struggle to breathe.
Vancouver, British Columbia “neighbours” insist on heating their house by burning wood. . . . In his opinion, clean wood makes clean smoke. I am quoting verbatim. “Clean wood makes clean smoke.” They had new windows installed a while back, now they keep them open. You read that correctly, they keep at least one of them wide open with a fan in it 24/7. Now they installed a second corrugated liner in their large chimney and are firing up that second appliance too. Have been looking for help to stop this insane behaviour for years. City, metro Vancouver, province, federal government, health board, BC Lung Association. Pretty much get laughed out the door wherever I go. They look at me as if something was wrong with me for needing clean air, yet they have signs up indicating that their office is a fragrance free area. To add insult to injury, I even saved her life a few years back when she had a seizure and was aspirating her noodle soup. Thanks anyways. Had the house on the market this spring, 2016, some prospective buyers walked when they saw the woodpiles in the backyard next door. Has been going on for years and no help. Cannot afford to sue for nuisance, sure would like to. Any help greatly appreciated. FOR CLEAN AIR.
Roy and family
When we moved here almost 5 years ago I set up our nearly new air filter and was surprised when it needed to be cleaned shortly thereafter. I cleaned it in the bathtub and our white tub was filled with dark black oily water that stained my hands and the tub. Regular household cleaners couldn't get it off. A couple of weeks later, the same thing happened. Most of you probably don't have an air filter (we only do because we received it as a gift), but if you did, I’m sure you would have a similar experience. It really provides a disturbing visual of the air we breathe.
Let me add: we don't even have a woodstove or a fireplace.
I'm really, really upset about the wood smoke where we live. As in, it makes me cry. And I’m really most sad about how it is affecting our children...
Our children are breathing air that is really, really, really irreversibly bad for them. I worry about the short term effects, but I’m not losing as much sleep over red eyes and runny noses and asthma as I am the long term effects of wood smoke pollution. Is the wood smoke where I live increasing my children’s risk of cancer? That is what keeps me awake at night.
And there is no escaping it. My children are no better off at school, in the classroom, on the soccer field, on a hike, at a sleepover, playing in their own yard, in a home that doesn't heat with wood, and especially not in a home that does heat with wood.
When I think of everything we do as parents to protect our children and try to keep them safe and healthy, burning wood makes no sense. It feels very lonely to be educated about it, worried about it, and have others shrug it off as a lifestyle choice.
When it’s bedtime on a chilly night and I can smell the smoke in our house (or even if I can't smell it), I know my children will be breathing toxic air all night long while they sleep. Sometimes I lie there and cry because I feel so helpless. We cannot afford to move, and finding a place to move around here is next to impossible. When my kids get up in the morning they go to school in air that is heavy with
wood smoke. School, recess, after school, back home. It’s all the same.
There are months during which my children cannot go outside in our yard to play, or anywhere around here, without playing in wood smoke. Some days are worse than others. It breaks my heart that even when they come inside, they are not safe. Even the most tightly sealed home or school can’t keep such incredibly small particulate pollution out.
We cannot enjoy looking at the stars (the stars are visible, but we can’t be out in the air). We cannot grow food in our garden that is safe to eat. No air filter can change this.
What saddens me too is the irony that we live in a part of the world where we have options. For so many in developing countries, wood smoke pollution cannot be escaped. But here, we get to choose.
E.G. mother of two in San Geronimo Valley, California
My neighborhood is terrible with wood smoke in the winter. You can see the smoke in air the in the winter. The whole area is covered in a white haze. There are 12 to 15 houses that use wood as their only heat source. I have one neighbor that burns a fire pit frequently in the summer. One neighbors stove is in their detached garage so they burn garbage too. Another neighbors smoke blows directly at my house. The stench in the neighborhood gets really bad.
I know there are a lot of health problems that are caused by wood smoke but most websites that mention these forget that people can be allergic to smoke too. I have allergies to smoke. My mother has a wood smoke allergy too but mine is worse then hers is. Wood smoke and cigarette smoke cause me to have allergic reactions. When I come in contact with either type of smoke I get headaches, sick to my stomach, feel like I am going to throw up, my eyes get dry, itchy, hurt, swollen, and feel like they have sand in them, my throat gets dry, scratchy, sore and sometimes I loose my voice. Even when I go to the store or out somewhere I can not stand or sit next to someone who uses a wood stove or smokes cigarettes because the smell on their clothes and hair gives me a headache and makes me sick to my stomach. I am that sensitive to it. I have seen an allergy specialist and they have confirmed that I am allergic to smoke. I was told by the specialist to avoid smoke at all times.
I am basically a prisoner in my own home from October to April because of all the wood burning. I cannot sit on my porch, do yard work, shovel snow in my driveway, walk my dogs, walk to my car, or walk to my mailbox without having an allergic reaction. How is it ok for me to be miserable 75 percent of the year because of my neighbors? Everyone has the right to enjoy their own property but I do not have that right anymore because most of my neighbors have taken that away from me. How can anyone think it is ok to have allergic reactions 5 or 6 or more times a day every day.
I have tried talking to my neighbors but since they all use wood as their only source of heat they don't care. I have been told by most of them to move if I don't like it. It really makes me mad and upset because I have been in this neighborhood for way longer than any of them have. 20 to 25 years longer than they have. And when I moved here not one person burned wood. I have lived here over 30 years and this land has been in my family for over 150 years so moving is not an option. It started within the last ten years with people burning wood for heat. With the majority of it starting in the last 5 years.
The UN recommends that developed nations stop burning wood. Why aren't we following the UNs recommendation? When there are so many alternatives to wood. Electric furnace, electric heat pump, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, etc can all be used for heat. Even gas and oil are less polluting and less health issue causing than wood. The rest of our lives has been modernized it is time our heat has too. The wood burning has to stop.
We have been inundated with wood smoke for the past 3.5 years. Our neighbors removed a gas fireplace and installed an EPA approved wood stove. They did this because of the false claims of health departments, government agencies and the wood burning industry, that makes claims that the new stoves burn cleanly. Unfortunately for us, this has not proved to be the case. The year before the neighbors installed their indoor wood stove, my wife was hospitalized for 3 months during which time she had MRI’s and chest Xrays that all came back clear. However, in the fall of the 2nd year of the wood stove operating next door, she was diagnosed with COPD, which now costs us $300.00 a month to help her breathe. This could only be due to the wood smoke we are exposed to in our own home from the neighbor’s wood burning.
I have many pictures of our home engulfed in such smoke. I have contacted many authorities to help us – but to no avail. As a matter of fact, what happens is one agency or person says to contact another agency or person and it just goes round and round in circles. Our town officials have zero idea how deadly wood smoke can be, so it is a non-issue for them. I have spent perhaps close to $4,000 in the past 3 years trying to alleviate our situation which includes taking out much loved trees hoping to change wind patterns. I contacted 4 different Law firms, none of which would take our case. One law firm told me if they were to take on our case it would cost $25,000.00 just to get it off the ground — with no guarantee that the judge was not a wood burner himself. Where is our right to breathe? I cannot imagine the financial loss if I where to sell our home of many years. If I did sell our house without disclosing the wood smoke issue, I could then be sued for not disclosing an environmental hazard
My Cancer Story
In 2010 at age 58 I developed aggressive diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (DLBCL) that progressed to a stage IV tumour eating away my sacrum and lower spinal nerves. I live (since 1977) with wood smoke and other air pollutants in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. I am 64 years old as of July 2016.
After reading* about my cancer, I discovered that lymphocytes and macrophages in lungs absorb many of the tiny particles from air pollution and then go to lymph nodes where they often sit for years, sometimes causing changes and sometimes leading to cancer.
I was given 2 months to live except that radiation and chemotherapy (CHOP R) works so well against fast growing cancer cells. And I have an axe to grind against needless pollution like wood smoke. People can also blame pesticides, organic solvents, paint thinners, dioxins and benzene for cancer, but I was most exposed to wood smoke.
* From “Environmental Health Science” by Morton Lippmann, et al (2003, Oxford UP)
(RA 566 .L55 2003)
Page 152: Deposited particles in the alveolar (lung cell) region may be taken up, over half-times that vary from days to years, via phagocytosis, by specialized cells known as alveolar macrophages, which are present on the alveolar surfaces. The macrophages, and also free particles, may penetrate the alveolar epithelium, entering the interstitial tissue where they may remain (parenchymal sequestration), or become absorbed into the lymphatic system. Macrophages carried in this system may be trapped in lymph nodes, which act as dust stores of the lung, or they may eventually drain with the lymphatic fluid into the systemic blood.
Now in October 2015, I have developed CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia) probably due to the radiation treatment from my lymphoma. Thanks to modern chemo, especially the CHOP R for lymphoma and also Imatinib for CML, I am still hanging in there. But no thanks for the wood smoke.
Vic Steblin, Prince George, BC, Canada
We can’t open windows even late at night, because late-night burning is increasingly popular and we never know when we may be smoked out. I can no longer go to public outdoor events where wood is burned for cooking, such as art fairs. School bonfires have become the norm. I must use a mask, even going from my car to my house, to avoid wood smoke, because it is seemingly everywhere. More and more wood burning restaurants are routinely spewing wood smoke onto city streets, sidewalks and nearby neighborhood. When wood burning began to skyrocket, I researched the hazards of wood smoke. It was devastating to learn that it is chemically almost identical to tobacco smoke, which everyone should avoid. I believe that being forced to breathe wood smoke, even on my own property and public spaces, violates the basic civil right to breathe clean air. There are far more prudent alternatives to burning wood. Wood burning should be prohibited—especially in areas where people live in close proximity, because we all share the air .
Our ordeal began in 2002 … Interlocutory Injunction obtained in May of 2005.
I can tell you first-hand what it is like when one is forced to deal with a smoke issue, as I have lived through it.
I can tell you that the stench permeates your entire home, your clothing, your hair, and you can even taste it.
Exposure to the smoke was extremely uncomfortable and caused burning eyes, dry throat, irritation of the nasal passages and headaches. When the smoke stopped, so did the symptoms.
There was no relief by opening windows because the acrid smells were like a fog covering our house. Buying expensive air cleaners did nothing to remove the odours. There was no enjoying the deck and yard as long as the wood burning stove was in operation.
As there was no provincial or municipal authority to whom I could turn to for help, I was forced to resort to the courts. In order to get the smell of the wood smoke out of the house, we removed and replaced the carpeting, ductwork, the furnace and air conditioning unit, and cleaned all surfaces including the walls. Mattresses and pillows were discarded as they smelled of wood smoke. It was an expensive project.
I can tell you the fatigue my husband felt after working all day and then going to our house until near midnight day after day to work on the renovations. Myself, I had all the clothing and every knick-knack and assorted other household objects to wash before bringing them back to the house.
I came to notice that there were absolutely no cobwebs in a house that had been vacated for so long. I can only assume that something in the smoke killed the spiders because, now that we have the Injunction and there is no burning, I again have cobwebs.
We were fortunate enough to have the means to seek legal help. Remember that there was no provincial or municipal authority which we could turn to for help. What would happen to those that cannot afford legal help? Would they be forced to move out of their homes? Could they afford to do that? Would they be able to sell their home when a potential buyer saw or smelled the smoke? Or, would they have to remain in their homes with their children and become sick? It's a thought that is very disturbing to me.
I think it is high time that our municipalities give some thought to wood burning in residential areas. I fail to see how the public interest is served by permitting smoke from a neighbor's burning to fill a property and permeate all surrounding homes. Wood smoke is a serious health hazard.
Someone please tell me why and how anyone can destroy your life with an outdoor wood boiler and still not be held responsible? Today my husband has his blood counts wiped out because of leukemia he got a few weeks ago, and to think about all the garbage and everything that was burned and blown on us for years without anyone shutting my neighbor down with all my pictures and everyone I begged to and attorney telling me my complaints was falling on deaf ears! I am angry! I plan on going all way to the White House with my pictures and pictures of my husband suffering if I have to. Why shouldn't the people that allowed this be held responsible? Why? My husband’s blood count is wiped out he doesn’t have the strength to talk, get dressed or even eat and all he can do to breathe he is so short of breath. ... [Our neighbor] has destroyed our life... I had so much evidence and worked so hard on my case for my neighbor and our county to just get off free for the horror they put us through is shocking and my husband if he gets out of hospital comes home to the same old toxic smells in our home from the smoldering smoke that has made him sick. He is still in the bone marrow unit not knowing when he will come home. Why can’t my neighbor be held responsible for the hurt he has inflicted on us? Why?
Our nearest neighbor decided a few years ago that one wood stove wasn’t enough, so she added a second. It had been bad before, but soon our house was surrounded with smoke like never before. I kept waking up in the night with my chest hurting, in spite of sleeping in a room with an air cleaner.
After a week with both stoves going almost 24/7, my husband awoke at 3am thinking he was having a heart attack. He was rushed to the ER by ambulance. He couldn’t breathe and had developed heart rhythm irregularities from the smoke.
Even our pets have become asthmatic. One died, and our surviving asthmatic cat is so severely affected that our vet has told us his life will be shortened because of his damaged lungs and the drugs he’ll need to take for life so he can breathe.
My husband has asthma, congestive heart failure, and worsening Parkinson’s, and I have asthma and have developed a neurovascular disorder. I’ve been told I’m at high risk of a stroke. My husband sleeps propped up on pillows to breathe, and I’ve been told I must do everything I can to reduce any additional stroke risk, such as avoid smoke.
Two months ago my husband finally did have a heart attack, and I’m convinced the smoke contributed to it. Our nearest neighbor burns lumberyard waste and even her garbage in her stoves. But she isn’t the only one. Almost every house in our neighborhood burns. Garbage service is not mandatory here, so many use their wood stoves for that as well. There are also burn piles and backyard campfires. When I’ve asked our air management district for help, I was told that they won’t investigate anything coming out of a chimney, because that would invade the polluter’s privacy.
The smoke is quite localized and our air management district is careful to avoid putting monitors anywhere they might actually record pollution. (One of the two in our large county is positioned right next to the waterfront.) I know we are not the only neighborhood in my rural area with a high level of air pollution, but according to the official numbers, we have clean air here. It’s infuriating.
Even as I type this, it is early morning and my throat and chest hurt from the smoke seeping into our house, in spite of the fact that the double-paned, insulated windows are shut and I’m in a room with a HEPA air cleaner. Why should anyone have to live a sicker, shorter life simply because of their neighbors’ choice of heating? We don’t have the resources to move, but even if we did, there’s no guarantee it won’t happen to us again. We’ve lived here longer than anyone else in the neighborhood. All of these wood stoves were put in after we came here. It could just happen again. The situation feels so hopeless, it often fills me with despair.
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