WOOD SMOKE POWERPOINT COMMENTS
(Revised by Bj: CEAC presentation March 7, 2012)
Thank you to all CEAC members and staff for this opportunity to work with you towards better
air quality in Minneapolis. Since Minneapolis will be looking at possible changes to its
recreational fire ordinance, watching our presentation is an important first step toward
understanding the health hazards of wood smoke.
Take Back the Air is an all-volunteer group of men and women with other jobs, who are
working to alert the public to the perils of wood smoke. We’ve worked with the PCA,
the MN Health Department, the City of Minneapolis and other groups.
Take Back the Air is also a member of Healthy Legacy, a state-wide coalition of
environmental groups, with a focus on children’s health. Some of our members are
here tonight, and I would like to take a minute to let them introduce themselves.
And, I’m Bj, filling in for Julie Mellum, the founder of Take Back the Air who can’t be
with us today.
Slide 1: Introduction
In 2011, according to Dan Huff, Environmental Services Director, outdoor
“recreational” fires rose by 50%. Other statistics indicate recreational fires are up by
80%. The National Transportation Board states that no phone call or text message is
worth a life lost in a driving accident. By the same token, is allowing wood smoke to
infuse our air worth the risk of asthma attacks, heart attacks, cancer and premature
Many of us have been plagued by wood smoke for years. We speak for many others,
including children, who have no voice and are sickened by wood smoke.
We invite you to stop and notice how often wood smoke is in our air, faint to heavy—
and how often restaurants are now burning wood for cooking and entertainment.
There is no agency to turn to for relief from wood smoke. Wood smoke already
violates most nuisance ordinances, but they aren’t being enforced.
As you’ll see in our presentation, wood smoke is a major source of black carbon (soot),
which cities are struggling to reduce. As the trend towards biomass incineration for
energy and waste disposal accelerates, it is (even more—I’d omit all in red )paramount
that we restrict recreational burning in our own yards and in public spaces.
In the interest of time, please withhold your questions and comments until the end of
The next 4 slides may seem like a joke, because they wouldn’t be taken seriously in today’s
Slide 2: More doctors smoke Camels
Such advertising is probably illegal now.
Slide 3: Reagan & Chesterfields
Imagine sending your friends a carton of “cancer sticks” for a gift!
Slide 4: “Gee, Mommy”, Marlboro ad
This ad implies that smoking doesn’t harm babies or others, but that it’s a great stress-reliever.
Slide 5: Blow smoke in her face
This ad is filled with all sorts of negative messages, and vastly misrepresents the truth about
Have you noticed similar messages in today’s wood burning ads that link wood burning to
romance and family-friendly, harmless fun? Many exploit the myth that wood burning is
“green” or “carbon neutral” when nothing could be farther from the truth. Wood burning ads
may well become an embarrassing part of history, just like these cigarette ads are today.
Slide 6: Wood smoke and Tobacco smoke
Wood smoke is chemically similar to tobacco smoke. When we smell wood smoke, we
are inhaling it—smoking it--directly into our lungs. I’d remove this phrase, Consider this:
With all the wood smoke in our air, “we are all smokers now.”
Slide 7: Residential Wood Burning; wood smoke is a major source of PM 2.5 in MN
Residential wood burning is a huge source of fine particle pollution in the metro,
exceeding that of vehicle exhaust.
But It is far more concentrated and travels much farther.
We don’t smell exhaust in our neighborhoods for hours at a time unless we live near a
highway. But we smell wood smoke most any time we walk outdoors, if we stop to
notice, and from stationary sources that do not move away.
People must drive from necessity or sometimes for convenience but rarely just for
entertainment. But outdoor recreational fires and restaurant wood grills all emit fine
soot particulates for long periods of time, contaminating entire communities for hours.
Slide 8: Harvard study
Dr. Joel Schwartz of The Harvard School of Public Health says, “Particle pollution is the
most important contaminant in our air—when levels go up, people die.”
Slide 9: Wood smoke, a severe public health hazard
Dr. Oz says, “Wood smoke is far more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke”.
Slide 10: Why is wood smoke dangerous?
Wood smoke’s fine particulates are too miniscule to be filtered out of our lungs. They
enter our bloodstream, damage throat and lung DNA, and pave the way for cancer,
heart attacks and asthma attacks.
Slide 11: “Fine Particulate Matter, PM 2.5
The MPCA confirms that wood burning is a major source of fine particulates.
Slide 12: Fine particles (PM 2.5) harm health
The PCA also states that fine particles can cause premature death, even in those with no
known health problems.
Slide 13: Everyone’s at risk from Wood Smoke
About 30% of Minneapolis school children have diagnosed asthma, which is the number one
reason for absenteeism. This data was from the Bloomington Public Schools administrative
office (I now remember, but don’t have anything in writing, however). Children, our most
valuable resource, need our protection to do better in school with fewer asthma episodes.
Many schools feature bonfires at school events. But this limits accessibility for
asthmatics. Restricting wood burning would improve accessibility and school
Many asthmatics aren’t aware that wood smoke is a trigger for asthma attacks, and that
wood smoke’s effects often kick in a day or two after exposure.
Slide 14: Asthma statistics
These numbers are really tragic. (Read some of the statistics.) Many asthma attacks
could be prevented if we regulate wood smoke, just as we regulate tobacco smoke( We
could omit this previous sentence in red.)
Slide 15: Smoke from back yard fires is a major source of particle pollution in Minnesota.
Wood smoke irritates respiratory mucous membranes, resulting in asthma attacks,
bronchitis, pneumonia, and heart attacks. Did you know wood smoke is implicated in
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?
Slide 16: Wood smoke violates property rights
Wood smoke violates the property rights of others to use and enjoy their own property.
A Stanford University study shows that up to 70% of outdoor wood smoke can enter
homes through cracks and vents.
Slide 17: Wood Smoke violates the ADA-Americans with Disabilities Act
We’re speaking for multitudes of other citizens who often can’t garden, walk, bike or
dine outdoors due to wood smoke. When wood smoke enters their yards, they must
abandon what they’re doing and rush inside to close all windows and doors. Using air
conditioning to try and clear the air uses extra energy (and, therefore, contributes to
global climate change) and is costly.
Wood smoke presents a true physical barrier to the use of public spaces for people with
disabilities such as asthma. The Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines (ADA) require
cities to remove all such barriers.
In fact, an Iowa District Court ordered the town of MALLARD to disallow wood burning,
because the smoke violated the basic civil right of a child with severe asthma to use
When we can’t breathe clean air in public or private spaces, isn’t it time to do something
Slide 18—Fire department medical complaint calls in 2010
In 2010, respiratory distress was the #1 reason for calls to the Mpls. Fire Department.
There were 1,949 such calls and 1,419 calls for chest pain. Wood smoke nuisance
complaint calls are also at an all-time high.
Slide 19: Wood smoke and public events-Minnehaha Falls
This picture was taken at the Minnehaha Falls Bluegrass Festival. Growing numbers of
people can’t attend public gatherings like the state fair, outdoor art fairs, or shop in their
neighborhoods where wood burning restaurants belch smoke into the streets and
sidewalks. This is especially noticeable In Uptown and Linden Hills Village. (You could
omit the reference to 50th and France. )
Indeed, as mentioned before, wood smoke violates the civil rights of many people to
access and enjoy public spaces such as bike paths, sidewalks and parks.
It is discriminatory to allow smoke to infiltrate public spaces, when all people require
clean air to live and thrive, and especially those with breathing difficulties.
Slide 20: Wood smoke and global warming
Wood smoke’s black carbon (soot) is a major contributor to climate change. So
restricting wood smoke makes sense from many standpoints.
Slide 21: Wood smoke vs. tobacco smoke
Everything we know about tobacco smoke is also true of wood smoke. Both contain
hundreds of the same toxins, including lead, mercury, formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic,
dioxins and other cancer-causing chemicals. They build up and do not break down in our
bodies or the environment.
But wood smoke is 12 times more concentrated, travels farther and remains chemically
active in the body 40 times longer than tobacco smoke.
Ironically, indoor smoking bans protect us from tobacco smoke, and cigarette smoking is
banned in Minneapolis parks. But so far nothing protects us from wood smoke in city
parks and other public spaces, or on our own property.
Slide 22: “The Facts are Clear”
Cleaning up air pollution improves health and saves lives.
Slide 23: Wood smoke, a recognized contributor to air pollution
Air Alerts coming from the PCA now acknowledge wood smoke as a problem.
Yet many people deny or aren’t aware that wood smoke is dangerous, mirroring pro-
tobacco arguments, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of harm.
We’re having more “bad air” days. Yet wood smoke creates bad air. It is our most
prevalent--and most overlooked air pollutant.
Slide 24: League of Women Voters
The Minneapolis League of Women Voters addressed wood smoke at their Air Quality
Forum in 2011. The slides that follow were generously supplied to us by the PCA from
Slide 25: TC area fine particulates from residential wood burning
The PCA has divided our state into regions and each region is named after a tree that, I
assume, grows prevalently in the area, except for the Metro area which is named
The graph is from 2008 and the bar on the far left for the Metro area shows particulate
emissions in green from wood burning fireplaces, particulate emissions in blue from
wood burning stoves and particulate emissions in rust from outdoor recreational
It’s clear to see that 1/3 of all fine particles in the metro area result from residential
outdoor wood burning.
Slide 26: PM 2.5 emissions in the metro
The blue on this chart represents fine particulates from wood burning in the metro in
2005, just as the burning craze was beginning with back yard fires and wood grills in
restaurants. Remember, outdoor recreational fires have increased anywhere from 50 –
80% and this graph is already 6 years old!! Burning has skyrocketed since then.
Slide 27: “Important primary sources of benzene”
Wood smoke is a major source of the “potent carcinogen”, benzene, meaning even low
doses may cause cancer. 54% of benzene in metro air is from wood burning. Every time
we smell wood smoke, we are breathing benzene.
Slide 28: Gas is greener
The bar at the left on this graph illustrates the fact that wood fires emit 2,000 times
more fine particles than gas – the bar on the far right on this graph in blue. Wood smoke
also emits over 6700 percent more lead than natural gas! And similar amounts more
mercury, carbon monoxide, arsenic and other toxins.
Slide 29: What can Minneapolis do?
Here’s a menu of options that we recommend for Minneapolis:
1. Prohibit all outdoor recreational fires.
a. Minneapolis is considering a permit system for burning with tighter regulations.
This, however, doesn’t resolve the pollution and health problems that result
from wood smoke exposure.
2. Prohibit recreational burning in public parks and at public events—just as cigarette
smoking is banned.
3. Ban outdoor wood furnaces/boilers (OWBs), as other suburbs are doing.
4. Prohibit mobile sources of wood burning for cooking at public and private events, such
as traveling bbq rib “smokers.”
5. Place a moratorium on any new wood burning restaurant grills or fire pits
Slide 30: What else can Minneapolis do? (Barbara, maybe if time is short, it would be nice to
keep it simple and not mention all of these below to CEAC).
We recommend that you initiate an educational campaign on the hazards of wood smoke by…
Inserting announcements into water bills
Running sound bytes during 311 calls
Running ads on TV and radio educating people about the hazards of wood smoke
Incorporating information about the hazards of wood smoke into existing anti-smoking
curriculum in schools
Slide 31: We also recommend that Minneapolis (instead of “you”)…
Require that new home builders and remodelers install only gas or electric units.
Builders and remodelers are increasingly installing “outdoor living rooms” with large
wood burning fireplaces. Incentivize change-outs of wood burning fireplaces to gas or
electric. Promoting gas or propane fire pits and inserts could generate much new
business and foster a “greener” community.
Slide 32: In closing,
There are far more reasons to restrict wood burning than there are to allow it in the
Minneapolis metropolitan area. Due to the seriousness of wood smoke pollution to everyone,
and especially to children and other vulnerable groups, we urge you to advise the City Council
to support an outdoor recreational wood burning ban in the parks, at public events, and on
BURNING is optional…BREATHING is not.
Thank you for your time and interest…..