Smoke and open burning in Metchosin, BC, Canada.

- Health Effects of Breathing Smoke -

♦1.  In 2011, the BC Ministry of Environment published a report referencing the 2008 Air Action Plan which identifies "smoke management" as a priority for reducing air pollution. The purpose of the plan is to to reduce human exposure to smoke from biomass burning (e.g. wood smoke) and calls for a province-wide smoke management plan.

Health Effects of Biomass Smoke

Burning wood and other biomass creates smoke that contains a large number of air pollutants that can affect people's health...The main air pollutants emitted in biomass burning are particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOC). In addition, wood smoke contains smaller quantities of other health-damaging compounds such as benzene, acrolein, formaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

There is an extensive body of literature on the health effects of individual smoke constituents... A recent review of wood smoke health effects concludes that 'there is a considerable and growing body of epidemiological and toxicological evidence that both acute and chronic exposures to wood smoke in developed country populations, as well as in the developing world, are associated with adverse health impacts'.... A Smoke Management Framework for BC
A Cross-Government Approach to Reduce Human Exposure to Smoke from Biomass Burning -- June 2011, BC Ministry of Environment Air Protection Section

♦2.  Because of the increased recognition of the harmful effects of smoke from open burning, BC is revising the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation (OBSCR). Two of the goals are:

  • "Lead the world in sustainable environmental management, with the best air and water quality and the best fisheries management, bar none."
  • "Lead the way in North America in healthy living and physical fitness."

....what was once considered a harmless or entirely beneficial practice is now recognized as a significant source of air pollution and a health risk. The smoke (i.e., 'air emissions') generated by open burning can have significant impacts on air quality, with associated health and environmental concerns....

....The smoke produced from open burning contains tiny particles called particulate matter (PM) and a large array of organic and inorganic compounds -- the normal byproducts of wood combustion. Particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less in diameter, called PM2.5, is small enough to be breathed into the deepest parts of our lungs. It is associated with an array of health problems -- from a runny nose and coughing, to bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, and heart disease -- and contributes to premature deaths.

Senior citizens, infants and people who already have lung or heart problems are most at risk, but healthy younger adults and children can also be affected.

Research has shown that there is no threshold below which smoke has no health effects. This means it is important to minimize the amount of smoke produced and humans' exposure to it. The majority of health impacts from smoke result from extended exposure to concentrations below the level at which a public advisory would be issued.... Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation Policy Intentions Paper for Consultation,
BC Ministry of Environment

♦3.  The City of Colwood has banned open burning and "recognizes that improving air quality creates a healthier community for residents and protects our natural environment."

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Island Health Authority...spoke to the issue of air quality in British Columbia generally and stated it was the fine particulate matter from prescribed burning that is important and significant. He explained that fine particulates are 1/30th of the thickness of a hair shaft, get deep into the small air sacs of the lungs, and anyone with underlying respiratory disease cannot deal with it. He noted that many die each year from heart attacks and strokes as the chemicals released cause platelets to clump; bad vascular disease is a significant public health issue. He reiterated a comment heard recently: One of these days we will have to stop using our air as a garbage receptacle.

Ms. Eleanor Setton, PhD., UVIC Spatial Sciences Research Lab, reported on mobile monitoring undertaken to measure the fine particulate matter in Colwood, Langford, and View Royal over the past two seasons. She reported the particulate matter in the CRD area measured slightly over 10 per square metre and that Colwood and Langford measured 1,000. She supports banning outdoor burning. Minutes of the Regular Meeting of Council - October 9, 2007 - Page #2
City of Colwood

♦4.  The Cowichan Valley Regional District has published several open burning "fact sheets" describing the impacts of smoke, alternatives, and recommendations for burning "legally and wisely". As they note, "...burning sends fine, often undetectable particulate matter into the air. Our local mountains tend to trap this air — polluting neighbourhoods and communities for days or even weeks during the winter months."

  • Breathing wood smoke particles during high pollution days is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • Small air-borne particulates from combustion such as open burning is now considered to be the single greatest air pollution problem in British Columbia.
  • It is often undetectable, you can't see, smell, touch or taste the tiny bits of particulate matter.
  • It has harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins, furans, benzo-a-pyrene, phenanthrene and acrolein, some of which are known to cause cancer.
  • It has more than 100 chemical compounds and three classes of pollutants.
  • It increases cardiovascular problems like angina, especially in older people.
  • It poses the greatest risk for pre-school aged children whose lungs and airways are still developing, as well as others with respiratory problems.
  • It worsens respiratory diseases like asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, and bronchitis.
  • Cowichan Valley Regional District -- Open Burning Fact Sheet #1
    Impacts of Smoke

♦5.  Like the Cowichan Valley, our local mountains trap the smoke, especially in the Happy Valley and Sooke Rd areas.

Wood Smoke concentrates near valley floors with a consistent factor of two or three times between ridgeline and valley smoke levels. Smoke gets in your Eyes, and Lungs, and... (page 12)
Harriet M. Ammann Ph.D., Senior Toxicologist
Air Quality Program, WA State Dept of Ecology

♦6.  It is virtually impossible to keep the smoke out of your house.

....Wood smoke and fumes also enter homes where stoves are not used. Indoor PM10 levels from wood smoke in homes WITHOUT wood stoves reach at least 50% to 70% of outdoor levels, according to a recent University of Washington study in Seattle and and EPA study in Boise, Idaho neighbourhoods.... Air Quality Program, WA State Dept of Ecology

♦7.  A comparison of Wood Smoke vs Cigarette Smoke that includes 13 carcinogens.

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