Behind the Smoke: Wood Burning Causes Air Pollution

Bay Area air pollution doesn’t just come from tailpipes and smokestacks. Wood burning in winter months is also a major contributor. Wood smoke contains harmful gases and microscopic particles that can get trapped in the lungs, causing irritation and coughing in the short term, and much more serious health effects with consistent exposure. People with respiratory illnesses, children and the elderly are particularly sensitive to the effects of wood smoke.

In July 2008, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District implemented a regulation to restrict wood burning when air quality is unhealthy, in order to reduce harmful emissions. For more information, visit www.baaqmd.gov.

To minimize wood smoke pollution, follow these tips:

  • Winter Spare the Air Alerts – Don’t burn wood on days when the Air District issues a Winter Spare the Air Alert health advisory - it's illegal!
  • Weigh Your Heating Options – Pollute less by finding a cleaner way to heat your home, like using natural gas or electric heaters.
  • Switch It Up – Many fireplaces can actually rob your home of heat by sending heated air up the chimney instead of into your home. Switch to a natural gas or electric fireplace – cleaner and more efficient choices.
  • Light It Right – If you must burn wood, burn less of it by weatherizing your house to keep warm and upgrading your fireplace to a new EPA-certified model.
  • Re-think How You Operate – Burn only clean, seasoned wood; build small, hot fires instead of large smoldering ones that can be in violation of the Air District's wood-burning rule; have your chimney inspected often.


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