Monday, December 03, 2012

It’s that time of year again

Remember when you were young and every house had coal fires? On a cold winter’s morning you could smell the smoke from those fires as you left the house and you could see the evidence of all that pollution on the blackened stonework of buildings.

In the days of the industrial revolution, there were parts of Britain where the smoke was so thick from factory chimneys that people didn’t see the sun for weeks and of course their health was badly affected.

Those were the bad old days!

Here, in Bigastro there is no coal but there is a lot of wood and so that is what folks burn on their fires. Wood is cheap and plentiful and so it is a logical choice to use it to warm your house but it isn’t necessarily a good one.

Some facts to consider

Although wood smoke conjures up fond memories of sitting by a cosy fire, it is important to know that the components of wood smoke and cigarette smoke are quite similar, and that many components of both are carcinogenic. Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. Wood smoke also contains chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin.

The effects

  • Wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children. It also increases children’s risk of lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Wood smoke exposure can depress the immune system and damage the layer of cells in the lungs that protect and cleanse the airways.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toxic air pollutants are components of wood smoke. Wood smoke can cause coughs, headaches, eye, and throat irritation in otherwise healthy people.
  • For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease and those with cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful— even short exposures can prove dangerous.
  • The particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs where they remain for months, causing structural damage and chemical changes. Wood smoke’s carcinogenic chemicals adhere to these tiny particles, which enter deep into the lungs.
  • Recent studies show that fine particles that go deep into the lungs increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. EPA warns that for people with heart disease, short- term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias. If you have heart disease, these tiny particles may cause you to experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Exposure Issues

  • The particulate matter in wood smoke is so small that windows and doors cannot keep it out—even the newer energy-efficient weather-tight homes cannot keep out wood smoke.
  • The EPA estimates that a single fireplace operating for an hour and burning 10 pounds of wood will generate 4,300 times more PAHs than 30 cigarettes. PAHs are carcinogenic.

Of course, if it is the only means to heat your house then there is no choice. However, before you strike the match to light that cosy fire ask yourself, “do I really want to scar children’s lungs, do I really want to damage healthy people and put those who have already have respiratory or heart problems at risk?”

Response from one of my followers

Yes I agree with your comments / the last few years have seen the increase in Guardamar of wood burning during the winter months. A short walk around at night can leave those with a weak chest coughing and wheezing.
We now avoid visiting Spain in the depths of winter partly for this reason.

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