The health effects of wood smoke

In this installment of our series on air quality, we consider the potential effects of excessive wood smoke on the health of residents.

Annette Luttermann

Golden and District Air Quality Committee

In this installment of our weekly series on air quality, we consider the potential effects of excessive wood smoke on the health of residents and visitors to Golden.

Wood smoke contains a number of hazardous chemical substances such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (including potential carcinogens such as benzo[a]pyrene), and inhalable particulate matter (PM).

The chemical composition and quantity of contaminants emitted depends on how the wood is burned. Conditions that burn wood as completely as possible, not only produce the most usable energy, but also emit the least smoke. In general, more energy efficient wood burning appliances produce less of these hazardous air pollutants.

Particulate matter goes deep into the lungs.

One of the biggest human health threats from wood smoke comes from particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5). These very fine particles are suspended in air, can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and can trigger asthma attacks and heart problems.

Wood smoke is one of the largest contributors to PM2.5 contamination in Golden along with diesel exhaust.  PM2.5 levels can vary at one location in Golden depending on the time of day and weather conditions.  How many people are sparking up a new fire? Is the road closed increasing vehicle idling? Are slow wind speeds and temperature inversions trapping emissions in the valley?

Those most sensitive to the effects of PM2.5 include young children with developing lungs, the elderly, and people of all ages who have asthma, bronchitis, other respiratory problems, or cardiovascular disease. On average, an adult breathes 13,000 litres of air each day. Children breathe 50 per cent more air per kilo of body weight.

Breathing wood smoke can lead to:


Eye, lung, throat and sinus irritation

Increased risk of respiratory tract illness including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness

Reduced lung function, especially in young children

Increased severity of existing lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and bronchitis

Increased risk of heart attacks

Long term exposure to air pollution may contribute to chronic obstructive lung disease, increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.


Smoke from backyard recreational fires also releases harmful contaminants that can penetrate indoors to neighbouring homes through intake vents and windows.

The Golden and District Air Quality Committee strongly encourages those who choose to burn wood to be a good neighbour and minimize smoke by building only small hot fires with dry, seasoned wood. It’s also important to use only EPA/CSA approved wood stoves and to properly maintain your stove and chimney. Check your chimney frequently to see if it is smoking and if so, take action to reduce your contribution to air pollution in Golden.

It is for the benefit of everyone’s health.

If you have questions about air quality in Golden, please send them in to We will explore them in future articles.