Letter: Wood smoke - the silent killer

Tuesday, April 4 2017

The air quality on Gabriola was bad again this winter.

Walk through most neighbourhoods on the island and you can see and smell smoke from both open burning and woodstoves.

How do we know that the air quality is bad? 

We have the data. Concerned citizens on Gabriola and elsewhere have set up a network of low cost air quality monitors made by PurpleAir. We currently have eight Wi-Fi enabled real-time particle sensors. All are on private land with full permission from the owners. You can view them at http://gabriola.purpleair.org.

Why is wood smoke so dangerous?

• Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter along with carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. It also contains chemicals known to be dangerous to human health which is affected even if you don’t feel any symptoms or effects.

• If you smell wood smoke, you are being harmed. The sweet smell comes from deadly compounds like benzene.

• The very small size of particles (2.5 - 10 micron range) in wood smoke make them seven times more likely to be inhaled than other particulate pollution. 

• Wood smoke can easily penetrate homes of neighbours and create concentrations in their homes up to 88 per cent as high as the outdoor air readings.

• Acute exposure to wood smoke can trigger asthma attacks, allergic responses, heart attacks and stroke. In pregnant women wood smoke exposure is linked to a range of developmental responses in the fetus leading to smaller lungs and impaired immune systems. Chronic exposure is definitively linked to heart disease, a range of cancers, COPD ,Type II diabetes and dementia.

What can you do about it?

• Stop open burning. It is a waste to burn branches and leaves, and better to chip or compost them and use in your yard. Open burning should be banned.

• Burning wood at $300 a cord is an expensive way to heat your home. Use better and more economical heating sources such as propane and heat pumps.

• The Islands Trust and the RDN are aware of the risk. It is time they move beyond awareness to concrete action. Do not suffer in silence, tell them about your concerns and encourage them to take action now.

You can read a full version of this article at www.gabriolacleanair.ca.

Polluting is a choice, breathing is not.

~ Bram Vandenberg, on behalf of the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society