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As the weather gets cooler, burn fireplaces safely

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As the weather gets cooler, burn fireplaces safely

Comforting source of warmth can hurt your health

  • tkw954/Flickr

Although colder weather is tempting many Tucsonans to get toasty around their fireplace, Pima County warns burning wood can cause adverse health effects.

Smoke from wood-burning fireplaces contain hundreds of chemical compounds that are harmful to people with heart or respiratory disease, babies, young children, and pregnant women, according to the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality

Smoke can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. It can also cause headaches and nausea in some people. It can make asthma symptoms worse and can result in higher rates of lung inflammation and pneumonia in young children.

Walking in neighborhoods with heavy fireplace smoke can cause irregular heart bear, chest pain, and shortness of breath. 

"There are a lot of people in our community who are sensitive to wood smoke and are at risk. Those people can't even go out and walk their dogs because the smoke is so heavy they have a hard time breathing," said Beth Gorman, senior program manager for the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality. 

The pollutants emitted by wood-burning fireplaces have also demonstrated cancer-causing properties similar to cigarette smoke, said the Environmental Protection Agency in a press release. 

"We aren't telling people they can't use their fireplace, but we want them to know if they do to make sure they are doing it in the cleanest and most efficient way possible. If they chose to use their fireplace, they need to burn smart," Gorman said.

The following tips can reduce these risks from using a wood-burning fireplace:

  • Burn hardwood like oak, mesquite, and pecan instead of soft woods like cedar, fir, or pine. The wood should be split and dried 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 plastics, painted wood, charcoal, or printed pages in a fireplace. They will release toxic materials into the air.
  • Check your chimney from the outside. If you see smoke, your fire is not burning hot enough. Give the fire more air, and then check again.
  • Check before you light a fire to see if local air pollution levels are elevated. If they are, avoid using the fireplace on those days, if possible. 
  • Remember... if you can smell smoke, you are breathing smoke!

For more information on pollution, visit or call 882-4347.

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beth gorman, fireplaces, pdeq, safety, smoke, winter

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