Editorial: Fired up over wood stoves

Our last Question of the Week – “Do you consider smoke from wood stoves to be a nuisance?” – irked some of our readers. Perhaps “irk” isn’t a strong enough word, because “nuisance” certainly wasn’t.

“A nuisance??!!!” wrote V. Pusey. “It is an extreme health hazard, and seeing the poll results, it is a sorry state of affairs, ignorance abounds. Google the effects of woodsmoke, what is in that stuff. The poll wording is just perpetuating the ignorance of its dangers. Small town BC stupidity.”

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Ms. Pusey’s consternation over the poll results is due to the fact that almost two-thirds of readers who voted online said no, smoke from wood stoves is not a nuisance. As of Thursday morning, it was 277 (63 per cent) votes no and 166 (37 per cent) yes.

The question also drew a lengthy response from Nara Brenchley, executive director of the Sunshine Coast Clean Air Society, who quoted Oxford’s definition of nuisance and described wood smoke instead as “a health and environmental hazard.”

While conceding “there are ways to reduce the emissions,” Ms. Brenchley points out that in light of new research, “the messaging has changed.”

Wood smoke, she writes, increases the risk of heart attacks and dementia, and “children in wood burning neighbourhoods are more likely to develop lung and breathing problems or even autism.” It’s “12 times more carcinogenic than an equal volume of secondhand tobacco smoke” and “10 pounds of wood, burnt in one hour, releases as many polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as 6,000 packs of cigarettes.” As if that isn’t bad enough, burning wood releases more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels for an equal amount of heat while “black carbon, a component of soot, is the second largest contributor to climate change.”

Footnotes take you to woodsmokepollution.org, a report by the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and a Chatham House report on global climate impacts of “woody biomass for power and heat.”

The Society has received funding to administer the Wood Stove Exchange Program locally since 2009 and, while EPA-certified wood stoves, inserts and fireplaces are still eligible under the provincial program, “participating communities may restrict the list of qualifying appliances in their area,” the province says on its website.

Ms. Brenchley confirms that her group has done exactly that. “We are no longer rebating new solid fuel appliances,” she ends her letter. “It felt unethical to distribute public funds to someone whose new wood stove may send their tax-paying neighbour to hospital. $400 is available for switching from wood burning, ideally to an electric heat pump.”

So the gloves are off. Wood smoke denial is the new bad thing.

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