Wood-burning and air pollution

It quite often comes up with my customers about the polluting quality of wood smoke and other volatiles as compared to the volatiles of fuel oil and coal.

In the first place, there is one interesting fact about the chemistry of woodburning; the carbon dioxide that is released by burning is not different in quantity or content from that released by that same wood decaying on the forest floor. In that sense, any pollutants from wood may be said to be “natural,” in that they occur in nature and, therefore, may be assumed not to be harmful to the environment.

In contrast, fossil fuels when burned give off large quantities of sulfur dioxide-a volatile not normally found in the atmosphere. Since sulfur dioxide is the substance that is causing statues and buildings that have stood for thousands of years to literally crumble to dust, it is obviously not a very good substance to be breathing into our much less adamant lungs. Nature has its own way of dealing with its own pollutants so that they do not interfere with the health and growth of her plants and animals; she has not been able to cope equally well with man-made pollutants, and so far, neither has man himself.

Particle Pollution

It is true that fine particle pollution can be a problem with burning wood. Especially in country towns that have developed in valleys and low lying areas. The smoke from many wood heaters can hang over the population in an inversion layer causing health issues such as respiratory problems.

However, a wood heater that overly smokes is either in poor condition, has damp wood as a fuel load or is being used without enough air supplying the fire.

For the other side of the story, please have a look at this web site www.burningissues.org