Wellness Wednesday: Wood Burning and Your Health

While the crackling logs of a wood fire are without a doubt gorgeous and cozy, they are, unfortunately, bad for our air quality and our health. I’ll give you a second to wipe the tears or the angry smirk off your face because yes, this is another article about the efforts to reduce fireplace use. I used to be in the same boat and feel that nothing could substitute for the real deal; however, after my parents replaced their wood burning fireplace for a gas insert I was completely converted. I never realized how much soot was being deposited into their home until close inspection of the ceiling above their fireplace. Let me take that back. It wasn’t a ‘close’ inspection – you could simply stand across the room and see the black smudges covering the wall and ceiling. It wasn’t until then that I realized just how bad wood burning was affecting the health of my family, my neighbors, and our Valley (and state, country, world!). 

This article in the Fresno Bee explains that in 2014 a new San Joaquin Valley air plan will be put into place in order to help combat the adverse effects of wood burning fireplaces. Strict restrictions will be set that could even ban all wood burning during winter in the larger Valley cities like Fresno and Bakersfield. I know my wood burning friends will be upset, but can’t we pause and take a look at the bigger picture? I don’t have children but I always like to make my comparisons using kids – I know, I’m purposely tugging on those heart strings. Is having a fire worth watching your child suffer through a breathing treatment? Is having a fire worth taking away outdoor recess on bad air quality days? Is having a fire worth respiratory illness, cancer, or heart problems? Studies have shown that wood smoke is even more damaging that tobacco smoke! This article found on the website for Families for Clean Air says the EPA estimates that an hour of wood burning produces more carcinogenic properties than 30 cigarettes. Let’s put aside our selfish desire to bask in the glow of the wood burning fireplace and think about what we are really doing to ourselves and to future generations. Every effort counts so I urge you to do your part.

If my guilt trip didn’t work, maybe an added financial kicker will change your mind? The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District offers a ‘Burn Cleaner Program’ which will provide a financial incentive (as long as funds are available) to those who swap out their wood burning device for a cleaner burning alternative, such as natural gas. Program guidelines can be found here

I love my natural gas fireplace and we use it as the primary heating source for our home since the majority of the time we spend indoors is in the living room. The lazy girl in me also really enjoys the fact that instead of tending to logs I can simply turn the fire off and on with the ease of a remote control. As you can see, we are all quite content with our fireplace! Sure we may be sacrificing some of the beauty (yea, I admit it), but it makes me happy knowing that I am not sacrificing the health of my family whenever we turn it on – and as Martha Stewart would say ‘it’s a good thing’. 

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