Wood heat is a massive source of PAHs

Figure 2-11: Major contributors to national polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons trends

Although we often focus on the high amounts of harmful fine particulate matter in wood smoke, it is important to remember the huge presence of other toxins in wood smoke.

The latest emissions inventory for Canada shows clearly that residential wood heating is the greatest human caused source, by far, of dangerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

10 x more than all other sources

Wood heating puts out a whopping 100,000 kg of these dangerous PAHs a year. All other human sources combined (including transportation, manufacturing, oil, gas and mineral industries, waste incineration, energy production) put out a total of 10,000 kg of PAHs. This is 1/10th of the PAHs that wood heating creates!

This means wood heating is responsible for 91% of all of Canada’s human-created PAHs!

PAH Health Effects

Health effects from long-term or chronic exposure to PAHs may include cancer, decreased immune function, cataracts, kidney and liver damage (e.g. jaundice), breathing problems, asthma-like symptoms, and lung function abnormalities.

The four PAHs measured in Canada and included in this emissions  category are:
  • benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)p),
  • benzo(b)fluoranthene (B(b)f),
  • benzo(k)fluoranthene (B(k)f) and
  • indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene (I(1,2,3-cd)p).

Benzo(a)pyrene is a Group I carcinogen.  Benzo(b)fluoranthene has been shown to cause lung, liver and skin cancer in animals. Contact with Benzo(k)Fluoranthene can irritate the skin and eyes and, like indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene, it may be a carcinogen in humans since it has been shown to cause skin cancer in animals.

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