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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