"As with other combustion mixtures, such as diesel and tobacco smoke, fresh woodsmoke contains a large number of ultrafine particles" quote

Fire Pits, Chimeneas and Other Recreational Fires

photo of a smoky backyard fireOutdoor fireplaces, chimeneas and fire pits have become increasingly popular, as have wood-burning barbecues and smokers. These items are being installed even in small urban backyards in densely populated areas.


Fire pits and other backyard burning devices emit smoke low to the ground, at the same level as neighbors’ windows and doors.


Neighbors Suffer

Backyard recreational burning presents an especially difficult situation for neighbors during the warmer months of the year. Even with windows shut and air conditioning on, the smoke can be drawn in through the air intake of the unit. If windows are opened, the house fills even more with harmful wood smoke. If ventilation from the outside is closed, homes can become miserably, or even dangerously hot, yet still not keep out all of the smoke. Even during cooler months, it is impossible to keep out wood smoke.


It isn’t healthy for anyone, but if the neighbors have young children, are elderly or have a medical condition that is aggravated by wood smoke, it can be especially hazardous.


 Very Unhealthy Levels of Pollution

The South Coast Air Quality Management District in California found that the particulate emissions rate per minute from one beach fire ring (fire pit) is equal to the secondhand smoke from 800 cigarettes.

As an example of how polluting it is to burn wood in a residential backyard, a
PurpleAir particulate counter located outside a home in British Columbia records 206μg/m3 of PM2.5  when a neighbor is using a wood-burning fire pit. This was an increase from a background level of under 5μg/m3.


Research studies have shown that each 10μg/m3 increase in ambient particulate levels, even in the short term, is associated with increased hospitalization and death rates. Substantial increases in PM2.5 are  unhealthy for everyone, and can lead to serious health effects for neighbors in high-risk groups.


Smokers Pollute

Backyard smokers are another growing source of harmful pollution in residential areas.Backyard meat smokers are becoming another growing source of harmful pollution in residential areas. Meat smokers are set up for hours at a time, and sometimes overnight, filling neighboring homes with smoke.


Barbecue Smoke and Skin Absorption

Researchers have found that the harmful PAHs in barbecue smoke not only enter the body by inhaling smoke and consuming its residue on foods, but also by absorption through the skin. One study concluded that “outdoor exposure to barbecue fumes (particularly dermal contact) may have become a significant but largely neglected source of health hazards to the general population and should be well-recognized.”


Accidental Fires

As a side note, the National Fire Protection Association reports that outdoor fireplaces and fire pits caused nearly 3,700 grass and brush fires in the U.S. alone in a recent year.


Neighbors Are Deprived of Their Own Backyards

Backyard burning also deprives neighboring residents of the use of their own backyards or gardens.  As the advocacy group Families for Clean Air tells us, “We all deserve to have healthy air and to enjoy our backyards without breathing in the pollution from an outdoor fire.”


Residential Sources References

A wood-burning fire pit in use creates an unhealthy

 level of air pollution in the neighborhood.

For more information about common household wood-burning devices, please visit the following links: