January 2016
Volume 7, Issue 1

Doctor's Orders: Burning is Hazardous to Your Health

(January 2016)

Residential Wood Smoke A Public Health Threat

- by Dr. Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

In most major, northern cities, wood burning can be as much of a source of the worst kind of community air pollution as all vehicle exhaust. Such is the case where I live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Even in Los Angeles, a study showed that in the winter, residential wood combustion there contributed 30 percent of primary organic aerosols (probably the most important mass component of particulate pollution), more than motor vehicle exhaust, which contributed 21 percent. But that is only the beginning of the story.


Wood smoke is uniquely toxic among all contributors to urban air pollution. The free radical chemicals in wood smoke are active forty times as long as those from cigarette smoke, resulting in a greatly prolonged opportunity to damage individual cells. Other studies suggest that the lifetime cancer risk from wood smoke is twelve times greater than that from an equal volume of second hand tobacco smoke.

Particles in wood smoke are extraordinarily small, behaving essentially like gases, which amplifies their human health impact in multiple ways. The small size makes them easy to inhale into the smallest recesses of the lungs and less likely to be exhaled. They are then picked up by the blood and distributed throughout the body, causing inflammation and biologic disruption wherever they go.

The small size even allows these particles to enter individual cells and critical sub cellular structures like the mitochondria and nucleus, where the all important chromosomes lie. These particles can directly interact with and change the functioning of chromosomes, literally within minutes after exposure, which plays a prominent role in many serious diseases.

Attached to these tiny wood smoke particles are at least 200 of the most toxic compounds known--dioxins, furans, formaldehyde, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). One fireplace burning 10 pounds of wood in an hour will release as many PAHs as 6,000 packs of cigarettes.



Proposed Baltimore Incinerator May Violate Human Rights

- by Dr. Gwen DuBois, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility

It is unfortunate that Albany-based Energy Answers informs the media it still plans to build its polluting incinerator in our Curtis Bay section of Baltimore, Maryland.

Incineration may violate the rights of people downwind to have clean and healthy air. Not one parent would choose to have an incinerator in their backyard emitting mercury, lead, fine particulate matter, heavy metals, dioxin and nitrogen oxides. Nor would they choose to have hundreds of diesel trucks come into their neighborhood daily carrying the waste. Diesel soot is a deadly pollutant full of fine particulate matter and known and suspected carcinogens.

A company spokeswoman disputing opponents, told a reporter, "They talk about the deadly emissions and toxins that will come from the stack. Steam comes out of the stack. It's clean emissions and it is highly regulated." Yet construction was halted on the plant in June of 2014 because the company failed to retain offsets for tons of pollutant emissions.

This proposed incinerator is permitted to burn 1.46 million tons of waste yearly some of which will come from out of state. It will be permitted to emit 156 tons of fine particulate matter--linked to lung cancer, premature death and heart attacks--yearly; 446 tons of sulfur dioxide (contributes to formation of fine particulate matter and causes acid rain); and 601 tons of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen dioxide can cause reduction in lung function in children that will put them at risk for respiratory diseases for the rest of their lives, according to a report this year in the New England Journal of Medicine.



Study: Thinning Forests for Bioenergy Can Worsen Climate

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

A new study out of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon concludes that selectively logging or "thinning" forests for bioenergy can increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.

The study, "Thinning Combined With Biomass Energy Production May Increase, Rather Than Reduce, Greenhouse Gas Emissions," by D.A. DellaSala and M. Koopman, challenges bioenergy and timber industry assertions that logging forests will aid in the fight against climate change.

DellaSala and Koopman also refute assumptions that wildfires are bigger or more severe than in the past, citing multiple studies showing that the occurrence of wildfire has actually "changed little from historical (early European settlement) times."

The Western Governor's Association has stated that 10.6 million acres of western forests are available for "hazardous fuel reduction." Yet, instead of the build up of "fuel" (aka small trees and understory plants) being the main driver of large wildfire, the study authors blame climate, namely drought and high temperatures, explaining that, "during severe weather events, even thinned sites will burn."

Instead of preventing large wildfires, the study argues that thinning can increase the chance of severe fire by opening the forest canopy which can dry out the forest, leaving flammable slash piles on the ground, and allowing winds to penetrate the previously sheltered stands, potentially spreading wildfire.


The Biomass Monitor is the nation's leading publication investigating the whole story on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels. We accept submissions at thebiomassmonitor [at]


Josh Schlossberg, Mike Ewall, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, The Biomass Monitor

For subscriptions, back issues, and blog go to

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- by Josh Schlossberg, Editor

All forms of combustion-based energy--including biomass energy facilities, trash incinerators, and residential wood stoves--emit air pollution, including but not limited to particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds.

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated a link between exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides and lung disease, carbon monoxide and heart problems, volatile organic compounds and cancer.

The January 2016 issue of The Biomass Monitor features pieces from two medical doctors, Dr. Brian Moench from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Dr. Gwen DuBois from Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, who express concerns about residential wood burning and trash incineration, respectively. These physicians, sworn to uphold an oath to protect public health, believe the risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to these energy sources.

Of course, it's very difficult to make a direct connection between exposure to air pollution and disease. There are many environmental factors that can contribute to health problems, including car exhaust, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc. Further studies may shed light on whether or not biomass energy, trash incineration, and wood stoves have considerable, limited, or negligible impacts on human health.

However, in the mean time, we have energy options that don't involve burning, including solar, wind, and tidal energy for electricity, and ground source heat pumps and solar radiant for heating. It's up to the American people to decide whether to follow the precautionary principle by choosing non-combustion based energy sources, or ignore the risks and continue its taxpayer subsidized expansion.

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Top 10 bioenergy stories in the news

Follow The Biomass Monitor on Facebook and Twitter for daily bioenergy updates.

1. Vermont #1 for Wood Stove Air Pollution

2. Vancouver Scraps Trash Incinerator Plans

3. Biomass Energy for Humboldt, California?

4. GE Fined $2.25 Million for Incinerator Air Emissions and Falsifying Records

5. Springfield, Massachusetts Biomass Opponents Pin Hopes on Health Board

6. Fourteen Fire and Safety Violations for New Hampshire Biomass Facility

7. Seven Incinerator Protesters Arrested in Baltimore

8. Lawsuits, Questions, Allegations Embroil Colorado Biomass Facility

9. Utility President: Contract to Buy Power from Seneca Biomass Facility A Mistake

10. USDA $70 Million Loan for Trees to Ethanol Refinery in Georgia


Doctor's Orders: Burning is Hazardous to Your Health

Burning wood or "biomass" for energy--be it electricity, heat, or liquid fuels--emits air pollution in the form of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds, which can cause lung disease and cancer.

Join The Biomass Monitor on Thursday, January 21 @ 5 pm PT / 6 pm MT / 7 pm CT / 8 pm ET, where Dr. Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, will discuss the public health risk from wood burning.

RSVP here and email thebiomassmonitor [at] for the call-in number.

The Biomass Monitor conference calls are held the 3rd Thursday of every month. Go to for more information.