Physicians group: wood smoke worse than cigarettes

Utah physicians want ban on wood burning in populated areas based on research they say shows wood smoke is more toxic than cigarette smoke. Image courtesy of the U.S. Government

SALT LAKE CITY – Wood smoke is a major cause of pollution and more toxic than cigarette smoke, according to Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE).

The group is calling on the state to ban the burning of wood indoors and outdoors in the most densely populated areas year-round.

In other words, the ban would make it illegal to heat your house or fuel your barbecue with wood.

UPHE president Dr. Brian Moench says some studies suggest that wood smoke may contribute up to 40 percent of the particulate pollution in major Western cities such as Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Seattle.

“We’re suggesting that we need to start thinking of wood smoke in the exact same terms as we now think of cigarette smoke in public places, which we have prohibited somewhere around 20 to 25 years ago,” Moench adds.

The UPHE and other groups are asking the Utah Air Quality Board to prohibit wood burning.

Moench says part of the challenge is that wood smoke is not a cultural pariah like cigarette smoke or exhaust from a car. He says people tend to like the smell of wood smoke, but adds that the nice smell can cause serious harm to the environment and human health.

“In a lot of people’s mind it has a nice aroma to it,” he says. “But if you can think past that aroma, anytime you’re around it you might notice yourself, if you get a little of bit stinging eyes, you get a little bit of a scratchy throat. Well that’s telling you that something is wrong.”

Moench says if the state does not ban wood burning year-round, the UPHE may lobby city council in Salt Lake City to implement a prohibition.

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