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Quebec Lung Association / Quebec Respiratory Health Foundation

Wood heating

Let us protect our health...

...from the wood fire smoke

The fire of chimney: it seems peaceful, romantic and inoffensive, but it releases a smoke made up of more than one hundred of different toxic substances: fine particles, carbon monoxides, made up organic volatile, oxides of nitrogen and many irritating products. Some of these substances are carcinogenic. Others, like the fine particles, which have a diameter lower than that of a hair, can penetrate deeply in the lungs and affect the health.

Potential effects on the health of certain contaminants resulting from the wood smoke when their concentration is too high in the air

Contaminants Effects
Carbon monoxide CO Headaches, nauseas, dizzy spells, people with heart condition can see their health deteriorated
Composed organic volatile COV respiratory irritation and aches; some COV are carcinogenic
Acrolein and formaldehyde - Irritation of the eyes and of the respiratory tracts
Fine particle PM2,5 Irritation of the lung tracts; serious respiratory problems, including death where amounts are excessive, especially among those with a pre-existing cardiopulmonary disease.
Nitrogen oxides NOx shortness of breath, bronchial irritation, especially among people suffering from a pulmonary disease like emphysema or asthma
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons HAP Some HAP are supposed to be carcinogenic
Dioxanes and furans - Some dioxins and furans are carcinogenic
Source : Source : Direction of the public health of Montréal-Centre

These effects can be less or more accentuated depending of the physical condition of the person. Very young children, elderly people and person suffering from asthma, emphysema and cardiac problems are more sensitive to the air pollution.

In Montreal, approximately 85,000 houses have and use a wood heating appliance. During the combustion of the wood a part of the produced gas and of the fine particle return inside of the house. These leaks inside the house will be more or less important depending of the wood heating appliance, of its installation and of the way it functions. The particles created by the wood heating have the property to be no retained by the nostrils and by the throat, to get directly into the lungs and the blood.
It is time to care about the air we pollute because it is the air that we breathe.

Questions and Answers :

    1)  1) My wood heating appliance doesn't affect the air inside of my house. By closing the door of the wood stove, I prevent leaks of pollutants inside the house.

FALSE : The vast majority of wood stoves emit pollutants inside the home, even if they are isolated or that their door is closed. In fact, wood heating may further affect the air quality inside your home than outside. Children and elderly are particularly vulnerable to this form of pollution.

    2)  The wood fire smoke can go inside of the house and affect the health.

TRUE : The air pollution can affect the air quality in homes and worsen health problems such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or hearth diseases.

    3)  My ancestors heated with wood and did not die because of it. We are exaggerating the problem!

FALSE : Studies on the noxious effects of the particles on health are very recent but today we can affirm that here is an undeniable link between the wood heating and many health problems.

    4)  By burning only dry wood and by controlling the combustion we can avoid noxious emissions.

FALSE : It is undoubtedly important to burn only dry and clean wood, to control the combustion and to keep the door of the stove closed. However, wood burning will always generate pollutant emissions; the particles are small and invisibles but penetrate quickly and very deeply in the respiratory tract.

    5)  The wood heating is a problem for people living in Montreal because the population is bigger and there are many users of wood stoves.

FALSE : It is true that the number of SMOG periods is increasing every year in Montreal, but it should be known that this pollution problem doesn't concern only big metropolis. The number of wood heating appliances progress throughout the territory of Quebec. Data from Statistics Canada show that the number of new installations of wood stoves has increased by about 60% from 1987 to 2000. At the same period, the number of new houses has increased only by 20%.

To read about the new regulation applicable to solid fuel appliances and wood stove :
Click here

Sources :

  1. Direction of the environment and sustainable development
  2. Agency of the health and social services in Montreal
  3. Environment Canada





Wood heating levels

Wood fire smoke, a health hazard!

Close to three million Canadians heat with wood. But inefficient wood combustion releases pollutants into the air that we breathe, especially when poor combustion techniques and inadequate heating devices are used.

Air pollution problems and their adverse health effects

Studies show that reduced resistance to disease is linked, among other things, to wood smoke exposure. Smoke produced by wood combustion harms the cellular membrane, slows down immune system activity, damages the inflammatory cells that protect and clean the respiratory tract, and also disrupts enzyme levels.

The adverse effects of wood smoke include increased respiratory symptoms, more frequent visits to the E.R. for lower respiratory tract infections, exacerbation of asthma and diminished respiratory capacity. Young children, the elderly and people with a preexisting cardiopulmonary disease are more likely to suffer from wood smoke. However, hazardous pollutants linked to wood smoke also affect healthy people.

Environment Canada and Health Canada have drawn up a list of several hazardous chemicals present in wood smoke:

Fine particles: (less than 10 microns in diameter, the particles penetrate as far as the bronchial tubes) Fine particles are made up of microscopic particles of various size and composition, and this mixture is considered to be toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. These particles are inhaled deeply into the lungs and lead to serious respiratory problems, including death where amounts are excessive, especially among those with a preexisting cardiopulmonary disease.

Carbon monoxide: CO reduces the blood’s ability to supply the oxygen that tissues need, which can cause cardiac stress. When inhaled in large quantities, CO causes fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, disorientation and, in very heavy concentrations, it causes unconsciousness, followed by death.

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) : Nitrogen oxides reduce the lungs’ resistance to infections. Its adverse effects include shortness of breath, as well as bronchial irritation, especially among people suffering from a pulmonary disease like emphysema or asthma.

Volatile organic compounds (VOC): COVs cause irritation of the respiratory tract and certain illnesses. Some COVs like benzene, produced by inefficient wood combustion, are carcinogenic.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde causes coughing, headaches and eye irritation, and exacerbate asthma in people who are afflicted with this disease.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH): Prolonged exposure to PAH may represent a cancer risk.

Dioxin and furan: Some dioxins and furans are carcinogenic.

Acrylaldehyde: Acrylaldehyde causes irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract.

If you must heat with wood, take these precautions:

You can reduce the amount of pollution created by residential wood heating and improve the safety and efficiency of your wood heating appliance.


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Last updated on January 31, 2012

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