Concerned about wood smoke? Attend a meeting.

This past summer, residents of Multnomah County (and other parts of the state) breathed air heavily polluted by nearby forest fires. Many individuals had problems breathing and burning eyes and runny noses. The smoke-filled air was especially harmful to those with existing heart and lung diseases.

Many people don’t realize that burning wood in a fireplace or wood stove produces the same type of pollution as a forest fire, including tiny particles and gases that harm our health in many ways.* Along with diesel exhaust and industrial pollution, wood smoke is a major air quality concern in Oregon. Burning wood pollutes the air inside your home, increasing particle pollution and benzene by more than 25% and a particularly insidious pollutant known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by 400%. Wood smoke is also bad for your neighbors. The fine particles from wood burning cause outdoor air pollution and infiltrate even the most well-insulated and weather-stripped homes.

That’s why Multnomah County is proposing an ordinance to combat the wood smoke problem, asking people not to burn when temperature inversion events create unhealthy air conditions. The ordinance would be similar to those adopted in Washington, Jackson and Klamath counties and other local governments throughout the state, allowing exemptions for low-income households and those without an alternative source of heat.

Multnomah County is holding three meetings to educate residents about wood smoke and gather input on the ordinance. We encourage you attend.

For more information, including ways to comment online, visit Multnomah County’s webpage on woodsmoke.

OEC supports a combination of voluntary and regulatory measures to reduce pollution, and financial support to help low-income families replace their woodstove with a non-wood source of heat (preferable) or purchase a new certified woodstove (second best). Low-income families are often at a dual disadvantage: They not only can’t afford to change the way they heat their home, but are also more vulnerable to the health effects of wood smoke. Oregon household with an annual income of less than $15,000 consistently report higher percentages of asthma than all other income levels, and wood smoke worsens asthma. To help these families, OEC supports creation of a grant program at the state level that would help local governments implement wood stove replacement programs.

*The health impacts of wood smoke: According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the cancer risk from a lifetime of exposure to wood smoke is 12 times greater than being exposed to the equivalent amount of cigarette smoke. Short-term exposure to wood smoke reduces lung function, especially in children; worsens lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and bronchitis; aggravates heart disease; increases the risk of lower respiratory diseases; irritates eyes, lungs, throat and sinuses; and triggers headaches and allergies. It can even cause a fatal heart attack. Long-term exposure to wood smoke can cause chronic lung disease and bronchitis and increases risk of cancer and genetic mutations

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2 Replies to "Concerned about wood smoke? Attend a meeting."

  • Richard
    March 12, 2019 (11:35 pm)

    Why is it so hard to make burning wood as a primary heat source illegal in the Portland city limits when the environmental and health impacts are so well documented. I have tried for over 4 years tying to get DEQ, EPA, Oregon Health Department trying to get help and support in my neighborhood to stop daily unnecessary wood stove or fireplace use.

    • Dana
      April 2, 2019 (5:25 am)

      I fully agree, I am also against backyard huge Burns that go on continuously in rural areas which saturate the whole valley with massive smoke. In my neighborhood we each have one to 5 to 10 acres and everybody Burns continuously on the same days it’s horrible, my husband and I feel like our lungs are taking a toll this needs to be outlawed as well. Just because you have acreage doesn’t mean you don’t feel the physical effects of smoke saturated air. In fact the smoke of the comes from these backyard Burns that go on for hours that is 5 to 10 times the size of a residential indoor fire.

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