Fireplaces Heat Up As Cool Overnight Temperatures & Holidays Arrive

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Fireplaces are heating up with chilly overnight temperatures and the holidays approaching

fireplace

Pima County, Ariz. (December 21, 2020)Cooler nighttime temperatures and the approaching holiday season mean an increase in fireplace use in many neighborhoods throughout Pima County. During this unusual year dealing with COVID-19 precautions, we may also be celebrating the holidays in a very different way. If your celebration includes lighting a fire in the fireplace, it may feel comforting, but for some people fireplace smoke can make it very hard to breathe.

Wood smoke contains tiny particles and toxic pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These can harm people with heart or respiratory disease, babies, young children, pregnant women as well as those suffering or recovering from COVID-19. According to information provided by the Center for Disease Control, people have or who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at an increased risk of health effects from exposure to wood smoke due to compromised heart and/or lung function related to COVID-19. Pollutants in wood smoke can cause the eyes, nose and throat to burn with irritation, and even cause headaches, nausea and acute bronchitis.

Risks of Wood Burning Fireplaces

Walking in neighborhoods where fireplace smoke is heavy may cause adverse health effects. In particular, these include an irregular heartbeat, chest pain and shortness of breath in susceptible people. In homes where wood-burning fireplaces are used, smoke can make asthma symptoms worse and cause lung inflammation and pneumonia in young children.

“You can watch particulate matter levels rise at our air monitoring sites during chilly evenings,” said Beth Gorman, Senior Program Manager with Pima County Department of Environmental Quality. “From the calls we receive, I know that it is challenging for some people to breathe, if they have respiratory issues and live near fireplace users. Sometimes they can’t even walk their dog if fireplace smoke is pervasive in their neighborhood.”

In addition, fireplaces are not very efficient ways to heat your home. Most homes aren’t perfectly insulated. Cold air can slip in under doors and through cracks as hot air rises and escapes up the chimney. If flues are not properly installed and maintained, particles released during wood burning can escape into the home. The Environmental Protection Agency provides “burn wise” information on their website. This is to help reduce the impacts of wood burning in your home.

Reducing the Risk of Fireplace Dangers

Placing multiple large candles in the firebox may provide a substitute for the flickering flames ambiance you are looking for without the problems associated with burning wood. For those who choose to use the fireplace to burn wood or it is their sole source of heat, PDEQ recommends following these tips to reduce the risk:

  • Have chimneys cleaned seasonally to reduce creosote buildup;
    Burn hardwoods like oak, mesquite and pecan instead of soft woods like cedar, fir or pine. Split the wood and and dry it for at least six months.
  • Use smaller pieces of wood. They burn more efficiently and are a better source of heat;
  • Allow enough room inside the fireplace for air to circulate freely around the wood;
  • Never burn garbage, plastics, painted wood or plywood, charcoal, printed pages in a fireplace. They will release toxic materials into the air;
  • Occasionally, check your chimney from the outside while the fire is going. If you see smoke, your fire is not burning hot enough. Give the fire more air and then check again;

Check local air pollution levels before lighting a fire. If they are, avoid using the fireplace, if possible. Get air current pollution information at www.pima.gov/deq; and

Remember… If you can smell smoke, you are breathing smoke!     

Contact: Beth Gorman, Pima County DEQ, beth.gorman@pima.gov; (520) 603-0358  

To keep up with everything environmental in Southern Arizona, check out our blog.

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