Many people associate camping with fresh air, stars, and a great campfire but what about the dangers of wood smoke? Campfire wood smoke is actually full of dangerous toxins and it is almost inevitable that you will get some smoke in your eyes, throat, and lungs. Items such as newspaper, plates, and plastic serving ware are commonly thrown into campfires but they are full of chemicals that release toxins into the air before they fully disintegrate in the flames.
The Dangers of Wood Smoke
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released several statistics on the dangers of wood smoke:
- Wood smoke is 12 times more carcinogenic than equal amounts of tobacco smoke and it stays active in the body up to 40 times longer than tobacco smoke.
- Based on epidemiological studies, children appear to be at the greatest risk of developing health conditions from wood smoke such as acute bronchitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory illnesses and infections.
- Wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children.
- Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter and numerous toxic substances including known carcinogens. The list includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, aldehydes, carbon monoxide, tiny organic particles, sulfur dioxide and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs.
- Exposure to wood smoke can depress the immune system and damage the layer of cells in the lungs that protect and cleanse the airways.
- Wood smoke can cause coughs, headaches, and eye and throat irritation in otherwise healthy people.
- For people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful with even minimal exposure.
- Because wood smoke particles are very small, there are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. The small particles end up deep in the lungs where they remain buried for months, causing structural damage and chemical changes. Wood smoke’s carcinogenic chemicals adhere to these tiny particles, which enter deep into the lungs.
- Recent studies have shown that fine particles that go deep into the lungs increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The EPA warns that for people with heart disease, even short- term exposure to the toxins in wood smoke have been linked to heart attacks, arrhythmias and an array of symptoms including chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
How to Minimize Toxic Wood Smoke
- Keep your campfire small
- Only burn wood-don’t toss in any garbage
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