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LETTER: Wood smoke’s toxic embrace

From reader Fred Malara

Only weeks ago, we were spared from breathing wood smoke day and night and we could once again venture outdoors. But that dreaded smell returns! Only now, the smoke isn’t from ignited forests; the plumes rise and fall from our homes. We are choosing to smother our community in wood smoke’s toxic embrace.

Although chimney smoke isn’t as thick and oppressive as wildfire smoke, it is pervasive: I inhale it whenever I’m outside. Smoke breaches my home whenever my front door opens. On most cold nights, smoke submerges my house and neighbourhood. Smoke season has no end in Nelson.

On The Canadian Lung Association’s website, they “recommend that you don’t burn wood in a residential setting.” And according to Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution (DSAWSP): “Wood burning creates large quantities of localized outdoor air pollution, which has been declared a Group 1 human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.” Yet, we burn and burn and burn.

The Medical Journal of Australia has a study on mortality and the financial health costs of wood heater pollution in an Australian city: “In Armidale… fourteen premature deaths per year are attributable to air pollution from wood heaters … at an estimated cost of $10,930 per heater per year.”

But wood smoke doesn’t just imperil our breathing; wood smoke contributes to anthropogenic climate change too. According to a scientific paper in IOPscience, “wood has approximately the same carbon intensity as coal, and combustion efficiency of wood and wood pellets is lower … Consequently, wood-fired power plants generate more CO2 per kWh than coal.”

For now, it’s our decision if short-term pleasures derived from some of our perceived entitlements are worth their short and long-term debts. Personally, I’ve decided that burning wood just isn’t worth it anymore.

Fred Malara