Wood burners create cancer-causing air pollution


Wood burners produce carcinogenic particles

A new study found that wood-burning stoves cause almost half of the carcinogenic chemicals found in air pollution.

These minute particles, which are produced by burning fuel, are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and the research reveals that burning wood creates more PAHs than petrol and diesel.

The study was carried out in Athens, Greece, and published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics,. The researchers took samples of the air every day for a year and analysed them for a variety of chemical markers, including 31 PAHs.

They concluded that 31% of PAHs were created by wood burning, 33% by diesel and oil, and 29% by petrol. However, because some PAHs are more carcinogenic, the actual risk of cancer caused by wood burning is 43%, with diesel and oil at 36% and petrol 17%.

Athanasios Nenes, at the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas in Patras, Greece, and one of the study team said: “Athens is not an exception – it’s more representative of a rule. On the one hand, it’s: ‘Oh, my goodness, this is terrible.’ But on the other hand, it points to something people can actually do to reduce this risk without too much effort. You basically stop burning wood. That’s the bottom line.”

He added that PAHs were not the only harms to health caused by wood burning. “Wood smoke is particularly potent and causes all kinds of ailments from cancer to oxidative stress, which leads to heart attacks and strokes, obesity, premature ageing, diabetes – anything that has to do with inflammation in the body. So overall, I’m really worried about wood burning.”

The research noted that most of the exposure to PAHs happened on winter days with low levels of rain and wind because the smoke dispersed more slowly on those days.

In a previous study, Nenes and his team discovered that wood smoke emitted at night time oxidised into harmful compounds more quickly than anticipated, which has implications for both human health and the climate.


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