To the editor:
Many Bainbridge Islanders are very concerned about the environment. Organic gardening is encouraged, buying local is promoted to reduce our carbon footprint, we protect the Puget Sound with ordinances and laws, we outlawed the plastic bag in our stores to reduce garbage and smoking in public places is no longer allowed because of second hand smoke hazards to our health.
However, we seem to ignore the hazards of wood burning. A fire in the fireplace or wood stove is a habit on par with eating turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and shopping for the holidays. It is also very cozy in the winter.
However, wood smoke contains fine particulate matter that can scar the lungs. Those particles remain in the lungs for months. Wood smoke contains chemicals known to be carcinogens.
It is also known that wood smoke can depress the immune system and cause eye and throat irritations as well as headaches and coughs in healthy people. It increases children’s risk of respiratory infections.
In recent studies the fine particles have shown to increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
Knowing this, it is hard to understand why islanders use wood stoves and fireplaces to heat their homes. Maybe it is because they have always done it this way, maybe it is because they can’t afford another heating source for their homes, maybe they are unaware of the health hazards or maybe it is just ignorance. But isn’t it time that we start thinking about the health hazards of wood smoke?
When you burn wood, the smoke will not just stay in your yard. You share your smoke with you neighbors as well. The fine particles penetrate homes through doors and windows, even highly insulated ones. Some people, such as children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are especially susceptible to the health hazards wood smoke. According to a study conducted by the Department of Ecology, the particles in wood smoke cause an estimated 1,100 deaths annually in the state of Washington.
Of course people have the right to burn fires. But when you heat your home with fire on a continuous basis you should ask yourself if what you are doing is right. Granted other sources of heating are polluting, too. But burning wood is very local, right around your house and that of your neighbors.
So, I am asking you, maybe pleading with you, to think before your burn wood. You may do yourself, your children and your neighbors a huge favor.
P.S. For more information go to www.ehhi.org/woodsmoke/health_effects.shtml.