Outdoor 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.
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 for neighbors to keep out all of the 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.
As an example of how polluting it is to burn wood in a residential backyard, a 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.
Researchers have 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 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.”
Backyard burning also deprives neighboring residents of the use of their own backyards or gardens. As the advocacy group Families for Clean Air , “We all deserve to have healthy air and to enjoy our backyards without breathing in the pollution from an outdoor fire.”