Ecology And Environment

What is Wood Smoke Composed of

Patrick Sills's image for:
"What is Wood Smoke Composed of"
Image by: 

In the minds of many, sitting before a campfire or fireplace is regarded as a pleasant experience. However, what you may not know is that many components of wood smoke are carcinogenic. In fact, wood smoke contains a similar number of  toxins as tobacco smoke.

However, it is important to realize that the amount of smoke produced by a campfire or fireplace will be far greater than what comes from a few cigarettes, and so the amount of exposure to carcinogens is likewise far greater. Some legislators have suggested banning smoking in campgrounds. After reading the little tidbit of information below, the irony of such a proposal should become quite clear.

Two known carcinogens found in wood smoke are dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short.  Before panicking about someone lighting up nearby, and as suggested above, nonsmokers should consider the following: The US Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that a typical home fireplace that burns 10 pounds of wood over the course of an hour will produce 4300 times as many PAHs as 30 cigarettes. After doing the math, it should thus stand to reason that fireplaces and outdoor campfires or bonfires should negatively affect 143 times as many people as secondhand tobacco smoke, but the current bias against smoking is decidedly overwhelming.

Just some of the chemicals found in wood smoke include the following:

Carbon Monoxide
Acetic Acid
Formic Acid
Nitrogen Oxides
Sulfur Dioxide
Methyl Chloride
Sodium Magnesium

The particulate matter in wood smoke is so small that it passes right through closed doors and windows, even in modern energy-efficient home with weather-tight features. Wood smoke, particularly that from home fireplaces, is also the single largest source of outdoor air particles in many cities.  Moreover, 90% of wood smoke also happens to be in the most harmful particle size range, which averages to less than one millionth of a meter. As a result, these fine particles can remain airborne for as long as three weeks. 

Obviously, wood smoke is clearly a health hazard. Tiny particles can find their way into the deepest recesses of a person’s lungs. The ensuing toxic gases, bacteria, and viruses that develop can then be easily transported to the bloodstream. In turn, this weakens the immune system, which can lead to an increased risk for asthma, respiratory disorders, and even autoimmune conditions.

To summarize, wood smoke is a very significant source of both indoor and outdoor air pollution. While its chemical properties are similar in nature to that which is contained in tobacco smoke, wood smoke is far more concentrated. In light of these facts, it is very probable that the reported health problems among children and nonsmokers allegedly caused by passive tobacco smoke are really caused by fireplaces, outdoor fires, and the smoke from wildfires that can drift for hundreds of miles in the atmosphere.

More about this author: Patrick Sills

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow