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Dangers of a cosy wood fire

Wood smoke linked to similar health conditions as traffic pollution

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 07 February 2011

Particles from wood burnt in wood burning stoves and open fires may be as damaging to health as pollution from motor vehicles.

There is plenty of scientific evidence linking inhalation of fine particles of air pollution - so-called "particulate matter" - from motor vehicle exhaust, coal-fired electric power plants, and certain other sources with heart disease, asthma, bronchitis and other health problems, but few researchers have looked at the effects of wood smoke particulate matter.

However, a study published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, shows that the invisible particles inhaled into the lungs from wood smoke may have several adverse health effects.

The researchers analysed and compared particulate matter in air from the centre of a village in Denmark where most residents used wood stoves to a neighbouring rural area with few wood stoves, as well as to pure wood smoke particulate matter collected from a wood stove.

They found that airborne particles in the village and pure wood smoke particulate matter tended to be of the most potentially hazardous size - small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs.

Wood smoke particulate matter contains higher levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which include "probable" human carcinogens. When tested on cultures of human cells, wood smoke particulate matter caused more DNA damage; more inflammation; and had greater activity in turning on genes in ways linked to disease.

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