Wood Smoke Pollution

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Wood Smoke Pollution in Kensington

Jan 2016

My daughter has asthma, and I am very concerned about the constant winter wood fire burning. We live near Norwoood Avenue in Kensington, and there is constant smoke. Our house is not well insulated, so any cold day we smell the wood smoke inside our home at night. I am confused about this, as California seems to have got the message about cigarette smoke, and really did a good job eliminating smoking from public places. Wood smoke is equivalent to 10,000 cigarettes, and carries smaller, much more dangerous particulate. But despite how deadly wood smoke is, there does not seem to be any way to prevent people from burning wood fires. Additionally, it is very hard to tell who it is that is burning the wood. I am afraid it is making my daughter sick. Do I have any recourse? How do I find out who is burning all this wood? Thank you for any suggestions. Smokey the Mama Bear

I'm so sorry about your daughter having asthma. That must be very difficult. However I must tell you there is nothing illegal about home fireplaces and wood burning. On Spare the Air Days, yes, we are not supposed to be burning wood (and we do not). Additionally, the law allows those of us who have no other source of heat to burn wood any day, even spare the air days.Many of us have fireplaces and wood stoves. I, for one, have no heat or furnace in my house and my wood stove insert (EPA approved) is my only source of heat. And it's been this way for 25 years. We buy clean wood from a supplier and that reduces the amount of pollution. My wood stove is updated and perfectly legal.

Wood stove owner and user

You have no recourse except on Spare the Air days. On those days, you can complain, and fines can be levied against those who burn on those days.

Otherwise, you can try to make friends with the perps and try to influence their thinking. Although I find most people are self-centered and inconsiderate. People don't want to train their barking dogs, give up their loud music, or think about how their smoke may be making their neighbors sick. Sorry, but that is just human nature.

You could try to tighten up your house. Put in weatherstripping and close windows. Make sure smoke isn't sneaking in dryer vents or exhaust fan outlets.

Maybe get an air cleaner. I like the products that this company makes: http://www.foustco.com/ I really hope the laws get tighter. I think people should not be able to pollute the air in this way, especially since fireplaces are so inefficient.


Dear BPN community and unhappy wood smoke pollution sufferer.

I’m a reformed wood stove user. It has been quite painful learning the truth about my well-loved EPA certified woodstove. Burning wood is a major contributor to climate change, releasing methane, soot (black carbon), and twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s data, wood smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves is a significant source of wintertime air pollution in the Bay Area where one in seven residents suffer from respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis.

EPA-certified devices generate lower particulate emissions than non-certified devices, but laboratory performance of EPA-certified devices do not represent real-world performance because testing procedures do not mirror in-home conditions, especially over time. Moreover, EPA-certified devices emit significant levels of particulate pollution, consume large amounts of wood fuel, and have not been shown to effectively reduce emissions of toxics, such as dioxins and furans.

So while it is true that the only legal restrictions are on Spare the Air days, I hope we can all understand the trade-offs we are making when we light that fire...

No more woodstove fires for me

Educating self/others on chimney smoke hazards

Oct 2004

A couple of years ago, I read an interesting article in one of the local papers (''The Planet'' perhaps) about the health hazards of breathing particulate matter that eminates from wood- burning chimney smoke, particularly for children who play outside in the still, cold air and who may be outside for an extended period for Halloween trick-or-treating. I'm wondering if anyone can offer advice on how to learn more about this hazard (what other resources and groups) and also educate my neighbors. I only know that it's supposed to be very bad to breath this smoke, so we don't use our own fireplace, but we live in the Kensington hills, and it seems our neighbors think nothing of burning wood whenever the mood strikes them. Some nights, I open my door and feel a strong smoke odor that almost knocks me over. If anyone has advice on how best to tackle this problem tactfully with neighbors while also learning the specifics of why this is so dangerous, please let me know. Thanks.

Wood fires not only pollute the air, they cool the structure. If the house does not get smoky when the fireplace is in use, it indicates that the chimney is ''drafting.'' That means the warm air in the house is going up the chimney, and cold air is coming in from cracks around windows and doors. I think candles in the fireplace is a much better solution. http://www.baaqmd.gov/pln/prevention/wood_burning.asp sunsolsal

I'd like to suggest checking out the website at the environmental protection agency (www.epa.gov). They have a very nice website that is maintained for the general public. The EPA's gotten a bad rap lately, but it really is filled with trained toxicologists who keep up with the latest scientific literature and try their best to educate the public. Just do a search for ''fireplace'' or something. Another site you might try is the Society for Toxicology (www.toxicology.org) which has an extensive list of links for finding all sorts of good scientific information. Spike's mom

There is an agency called BAAQMD which enforces air pollution laws, monitors air quality, and imposes new regulations. They have some good information on their website about wood fires. Here's a link to a publication on their website with some good information. http://www.baaqmd.gov/pio/wood_burning/woodburning_handbook.pdf

I work at one of the Bay Area gasoline refineries as an environmental engineer and consider myself an environmentalist. I limit the number of fires I have each year due to the pollution they create. I live in a hilly area and feel my downhill neighbors probably impact air quality at my house on occasion.

The bad new is that wood smoke contains all sorts of harmful chemicals including: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, organic gases and particulate matter. Most of these are in such small quantities that they contribute more to the overall health of the environment than to the health of any one person inhaling the smoke. Particulate matter is a possible cause of cancer and is an irritant. Some people with certain allergies or asthma can have a more sever reaction to smoke. The good news is that unless you live in Dickensian London, next to a steel plant or have a coal burning stove in your basement you probably don't have too much to worry about. Combustion is a pretty natural occurrence and we seem fairly well adapted to handle it. Too much of anything is dangerous but the diluted chimney smoke from your neighboors fireplaces is probably not something you should waste your time with. This is just one person's opinion... anon