Health impacts

Just like cigarette smoke, wood smoke contains fine particulates and many harmful toxins  that we breathe deep into our lungs.

And just like cigarette smoke, there are hundreds of studies that show how exposure to wood smoke can have serious health impacts.

In fact, medical professionals state there is no safe level of exposure to wood smoke. And yet the Comox Valley has some of the worst wood smoke pollution in the province.

It is time to clean up our air, for the sake of everyone's health.

Comox Valley study: Wood smoke increases risk of heart attacks in seniors by 19%

A health study of three communities in British Columbia released in 2017 found that rising concentrations of fine particulate air pollution caused by wood burning can significantly increase the risk of heart attacks in people 65 and older.

During the cold season, when pollution from woodstoves is at its highest, the risk of heart attacks among subjects of 65 years and older increased by 19%.  READ MORE...

Be sure to check out our "News & Views" related to health for ongoing stories about wood smoke and health in the Comox Valley.

"Particulate matter (PM) is considered the air pollutant of greatest concern to human health in B.C. 

Research has shown that exposure to PM can lead to increased days lost from work or school, emergency room visits, hospital stays, and deaths.”

BC Healthlink.

Fine particulates are considered a toxin (a poisonous substance) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Who is affected?

Everyone can be impacted by wood smoke pollution.

However, some populations are more at risk:

  • Infants
  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • People with heart or lung conditions
  • Elderly
  • People with other chronic diseases.

How are people affected?

The tiny particles in wood smoke (PM2.5) get deep into the lungs. Some particles stay there, impacting lung function. Others pass into the bloodstream, carrying other toxins with them. Studies have shown they also pass through the blood/brain barrier.

The list of health impacts is very long and are cited by many reputable organizations and scientific studies. 

For infants and children, wood smoke can impact the function and development of their lungs and increase their risk of lung cancer. Wood smoke pollution has been linked to lower birth weights and preterm deliveries.

Wood smoke can increase asthma rates and attacks, and respiratory infections, particularly for children. It can increase ear infections and lower immune function.

For adults, it can worsen heart and lung disease and result in strokes. Even short-term exposure can trigger heart attacks. The smoke causes inflammation and has been shown to damage DNA. The list goes on.

Please see our Resources page for links to other websites and information on health impacts.

Health Impacts of Wood Smoke: talk by Dr. Charmaine Enns

Dr. Charmaine Enns, Medical Health Officer for North Vancouver Island spoke at a public event was hosted by Breathe Clean Air on March 14, 2018.

For additional videos from that evening, go to

Staying inside is not a solution

When an air quality advisory is issued, people are warned against exercising outdoors if they have chronic, underlying medical conditions.

The elderly, young children and other vulnerable populations are told they should stay inside.

However, studies have shown that 50-70% of the fine particulates in smoke still get inside a house.  Every home has air coming in from outside. Harm can be reduced, but not eliminated, by staying indoors.

If fine particulates can pass from your lungs into your blood, they can certainly get into your house from outside.

So instead of telling people to stay inside, we should be telling people to stop lighting their wood stoves and to put out their burn piles.

Unfortunately, unlike some places, in the Comox Valley there is no requirement for people to stop burning during an air advisory or other high pollution days.

Burning 10 lbs. of wood in one hour can release as many carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) as 6,000 packs of cigarettes.

Increases in wood smoke increases risk of heart attacks in seniors by 19%.

Wood smoke has been found to be 30 times more potent than cigarette smoke in a tumour induction study.