You Burn It, You Breathe It

Recently, fire-danger burn bans were lifted in three of the counties within ORCAA’s jurisiction.

The fire danger in Mason, Pacific Counties.Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor Counties dropped to “low” so the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and county fire marshalls rescinded the summer-long burn ban in those counties. Note that burn bans remain in effect in Thurston County.

But just because you can burn, doesn’t mean you should! Smoke from outdoor burning causes substantial air pollution in the area, according to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA).

Burning wood and other plant material creates smoke composed of fine and very fine particles. This small particulate matter (PM) creates significant health risks, especially the very fine particles – smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). These tiny particles can remain in that sensitive tissue for months, slowly causing tissue damage and chemical changes within the lungs. That means that exposure to wood smoke may, at the very least, cause breathing problems and can increase – sometimes substantially increase –the severity of existing lung disease, such as asthma.

Smoke also has been shown to aggravate heart disease. Carbon monoxide is also a component of wood smoke that can build up inside the residence during the use of wood stoves or fireplaces. Carbon monoxide may cause chest pain, strain on the heart, and even death.

Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to problems associated with smoke. The types of problems associated with smoke exposure include lower respiratory infections, acute pneumonia, and bronchitis, as well as severe aggravation of existing conditions such asthma and emphysema.  Substantial evidence also suggests a strong link between wood smoke inhalation and cancer. As with cigarette smoking, wood smoke includes components such as benzo-a-pyrene and coal tar – both of which were identified as substantial carcinogens in tobacco.

There are measures people can take to reduce the amount of smoke they produce. Instead of putting yard waste in a burn pile, it may be composted or disposed of at the local waste collection center (where it will be composted). Residents should also be aware that burning of household waste or any form of trash – whether in a woodstove or outdoors – is illegal under state law. Burn barrels are also illegal throughout Washington state.

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