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Wood Smoke

It is common knowledge that cigarette smoke, a billowing dark plume of industrial smoke, or forest fire smoke is unhealthy to breathe. What doesn’t seem to register to the general public is that breathing smoke from residential wood burning is also unhealthy.


Consider this:


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Wood smoke contains very fine particles that are small enough to reach deep into the lungs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “fine particles can trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Fine particles can (also) make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks.”


But that’s not all: Wood smoke contains dozens of air toxics including known human carcinogens benzene and formaldehyde.


Cigarette smoking inside (or even outside) is against the law in many places because of the adverse health impacts of second-hand smoke. But most of us don’t think twice about burning wood in backyard fire pits, indoor fireplaces or wood stoves.


Perhaps out of tradition, wood burning remains legal in many urban counties/municipalities including Allegheny County. This is despite the fact that wood smoke can adversely affect the health of one’s family–and what about the neighbors?  There is no practical way to prevent wood smoke pollution from seeping into nearby homes.


While all burning will create emissions, what and how you burn can have an effect on the pollution you are creating. So if you do burn, please follow these tips to reduce your pollution.


One of the dirtiest ways to burn wood is by using an outdoor wood-fired boiler, or OWB. Backyard burn barrels are also very inefficient ways to burn.


On January 1, 2015, Allegheny County’s updated rules on “open burning” took effect. These rules are stronger than Pennsylvania’s general regulations. See the rules here.


If you are suffering from unreasonable burning from a neighbor and you live in Allegheny County, you can call the Allegheny County Health Department (412) 687-ACHD or click here to report an odor or opacity violation.


If you are outside of Allegheny County, call Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at 412-442-4184 to file a complaint, or 412-442-4184 for emergencies.


Please let GASP know if you contact ACHD or DEP and how your complaint was handled by contacting


For more information on the environmental impacts of wood smoke, check out these resources:

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