Why Wood Burning is Dangerous to You & to the Environment

Woodfires indoors affecting air quality

When you hear “warm and cozy winter,” what do you imagine?

For many, wintertime means you finally get to light a toasty fireplace.

A burning hearth is easily associated with the winter months due to tradition and popular media. However, recent studies suggest that wood burning poses a serious threat to your health. Even worse, it also contributes to poor air quality all around you.

In this article, we’ll help you to understand why burning wood is dangerous and share what you can do to protect yourself.

What is Woodburning?

Woodburning, not to be confused with pyrography or the practice of decorating wood with burn marks. Instead, we’re talking about the practice of burning wood for fuel and heat. Examples of these are:

  • Fireplaces
  • Woodburning stoves
  • Old heating systems
  • Campfires

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reports that 1.9 million homes in the United Kingdom (UK) alone use wood and other solid fuels. Meanwhile, the UK government data states that 175,000 wood burner stoves are sold annually.

Why Woodfire is Harmful for Your Health

Often seen as a symbol of comfort, burning wood has long been a tradition during the winter season. Plus, it has also been marketed as a safer and more economical alternative to fossil fuels. However, recent research reveals that burning wood has harmful effects on both human health and the environment.

Here are 4 reasons why wood burning is so dangerous:

1. It releases Particulate Matter.

When you burn wood, you don’t just produce ash. You also release small liquid and solid pollutants in the air that aren’t visible to the naked eye called particulate matter.

According to the UK government data domestic wood burning accounts for 17% of the PM2.5 emissions and 10% of PM10 emissions in 2020. In a separate study, they stated that wood burning in homes produced 3 times more particulate matter than road traffic. And it’s only going to get worse as activity has been increasing by 3% since 2003.

2. It’s harmful to the environment.

Because wood burning emits particulate matter, it is also one of the leading causes of air pollution. In fact, the Clean Air Strategy Report by the UK government found that wood in open fires, furnaces, and stoves accounts for 38% of the country’s outdoor tiny particle air pollution.

Furthermore, the North Carolina Coastal Federation explains that when you burn seasoned or treated wood, it releases “fly ash.” This contains toxic chemicals like arsenal, which is deadly to fish, wildlife, and humans.

3. It increases the risk of cancer.

Together with releasing particulate matter, wood burning also produces the following carcinogenic substances:

  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Dioxins

Additionally, scientists found that burning wood triples indoor air pollution inside homes and the health risk. Another study discovered that wood burning stoves cause 43% of people’s exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

4. Countries without gas access must use worse fuel.

Finally, another problem is in areas without access to naturals resources like gas, they must rely on even more harmful fuel sources to stay warm. For example in Kazakhstan, there are a lot of homes that burn coal and farm waste because there is not enough wood to burn either.

While woodburning is harmful, burning fuel like coal is far worse for the environment. Unfortunately, they have little choice, but over time we can hope there will be more access to natural gas to stop woodburning or the use of coal.

How can you protect yourself from the negative effects of wood burning?

While woodfire poses a serious risk to your health and the environment, that does not mean you cannot do anything about it. Here are some ways you can improve your air quality.

  • Use safer, ecological alternatives to wood burning like natural gas, solar, or wind power.
  • Sign petitions to stop wood burning in your community.
  • Appeal to local officials to implement laws that mitigate wood burning.
  • Invest in Air Quality Monitors to know the levels of particulate matter around you.
  • Install Air Filters at home to trap some of the pollutants caused by burning wood.

At the end of the day, one of the best ways to limit the harmful effects of a wood fire is by being aware of the air quality around you. With air monitoring devices like PurpleAir, you can accurately measure the PM2.5 in your area and make informed decisions on how to keep yourself safe.

Worried about air quality? 

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home.

Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.