Breathing smoke from burning wood in chimneys and wood stoves can harm a person’s health, according to a just-released report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The DEQ data shows that 12.8 million pounds of dangerous particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, can leave Oregon wood stoves and chimneys each year. That’s more than half the amount of pollution from the 2017 Sonoma County wildfires, which burned 110,700 acres and emitted an estimated 20 million pounds of PM 2.5.

“As Oregon faces a week of very cold weather, Oregon Environmental Council hopes everyone in the state stays safe and warm,” Environmental Health Director Jamie Pang said. “We know many of our residents rely on the affordability of wood stoves and chimneys as primary or secondary sources of heat, but we found the comparison to wildfire smoke important to share for homeowners who can afford better sources of heating.”

Pang said several cities and counties stand ready with grant dollars to help people switch to better forms of primary heating and Oregonians can make changes in their homes and support policies to protect air quality and the environment.

“One big opportunity is to phase out the use of wood stoves and fireplaces and commit to cleaner ways of heating, and creating ambience, as a way to improve Oregon’s air quality and save our climate," he said. "Federal tax credits and local grants in some Oregon communities are available to help individual households make this important change."

Wood smoke is toxic

According to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, just one hour of burning 10 pounds of wood generates 4,300 times more carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) than 30 cigarettes.

Wood burning in Oregon is both a major source of “black carbon” which is contributing to climate change, and particle pollution (in particular PM 2.5), which is a pollutant so small, it can enter a person’s bloodstream, according to the DEQ. Other pollutants emitted by burning wood include: nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, dioxins and toxic gases such as formaldehyde, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, acetaldehyde, and acrolein. Inhaling woodsmoke can lead to eye irritation, respiratory illnesses, bronchitis, and asthma, among other things. The DEQ said burning wood is the dirtiest form of energy production compared to other heating devices

The data from Oregon DEQ estimates that 12,791,821 pounds of PM 2.5 is released throughout the state from wood burning. This data will be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emissions Inventory. Click on the interactive map for more information.

Oregon DEQ funding has increased to help individual households phase out wood stoves.

OEC encourages people to decrease the amount of wood burned in a home, if it is not a primary source of heating, and to switch to a cleaner heating system if possible.

The Oregon DEQ has received more funding from the Oregon Legislature, which provides $500,000 to help individual households in:

  • Klamath County – “Woodstove smoke reduction through efficient energy systems”
  • Town of Lakeview – “Town of Lakeview Woodsmoke Reduction Program”
  • Harney County (Burns & Hines) – “Woodsmoke Reduction Project”
  • City of Pendleton – “Woodsmoke Reduction Project”
  • City of Prineville – “Prineville Woodsmoke Reduction Grant”

Each local jurisdiction has more information on its grant program.

Congress recently extended the $300 tax credit for replacing an older wood stove with one that is that is EPA-certified to be 75% efficient, until Dec. 31. OEC encourages Oregonians to take advantage of grant funding and tax credits.

Visit OEConline.org for tips on how to minimize the harm from burning wood.

At least 11 Oregon counties and municipalities currently restrict wood burning during certain months and when air quality is bad – with exemptions for families who use wood stoves as their sole source of heat and for low-income households. They include:

  • Multnomah County (October 1-March 1). The County also posts live-updates on each day’s burn status, and you can sign up for text alerts for bad air-quality days.
  • Lane County Regional Air Protection Agency (October 1 through May 31)
  • Hillsboro/unincorporated Washington County (November 1 to March 1)
  • Klamath Falls (October 15-March 15)
  • Town of Lakeview (October 15-March 31)
  • Eugene, Springfield, and Oakridge (October 1-May 31)
  • City of Prineville (January 1-December 31) open-burn restriction program
  • City of Burns voluntary restriction program
  • City of Pendleton (October 1-Sept 30) open-burn restriction program
  • Grants Pass/Josephine County year-round burn advisory and restriction
  • La Grande (October 1-March 31)
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