Consumer Alert: The Health Effects of Wood Burning Stoves

Homeowners and users of outdoor wood burning stoves are lucky to have an energy-efficient appliance to provide heat and hot water for their homes and property but there is another side of wood burning appliances that they should know about. It’s all about the health effects of wood burning stoves.

Wood smoke can affect everyone; however there are people that are highly at risk for developing respiratory illness such as children, teenagers, older adults, and people with lung disease, including asthma and COPD or people with heart diseases.

Smoke is a complex mixture of gases and particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. What makes smoke a major health threat is the presence of fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter, or PM). These microscopic particles are so small these could get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses. Wood smoke also contains several toxic harmful air pollutants including the following chemicals benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and methane.

Your health despite an outdoor wood burning stove

A number of studies link particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits. There are also studies that relate increased particle levels to early death. Research indicates that obesity or diabetes may also place people at risk.  New or expectant mothers should take precautions to protect the health of their babies since studies show that infants are of greatest risk for respiratory problems.

Long term particle emission exposures could also lead to the development of cancer and also reproductive effects like infant mortality and low birth weight. Short-term exposures to small particles, meaning only hours or days, can aggravate lung disease, asthma attacks and acute bronchitis. Therefore precaution is very important if you suffer from the following medical conditions:

  • Heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.
  • Older adults are more at risk by smoke, possibly because due to possible chronic heart or lung diseases.
  • Children also are more susceptible since their respiratory systems are still developing. They breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of pollution than adults.

Remember to always protect yourself from particle emissions!

To help protect your health and the health of loved ones, you should always follow these strategies when burning wood:

  • Only burn dry, seasoned wood that has been split, stacked, covered and stored.
  • Always test wood with a moisture meter. Remember that 20 percent moisture or less is best.
  • Depend on cleaner-burning gas or wood stove.

If you would like more information on the health effects of wood smoke, you can visit online sites such as the AirNow official site at You may also check out Washington’s Department of Ecology’s booklet called the Health Effects of Wood Smoke in pdf form. To promote best burn tips, you should check out web-ready infographics, social media messages, fast facts, article templates online.

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