Wood Burning – Real Stories

Every day people like you and me are affected by wood burning across Utah and our nation. The health effects (respiratory illness, nausea, blurred vision, headaches, migraines and cancer) are real and lead to diminished quality of life.

“As I type this my entire house smells like the inside of a fireplace. My neighbor started burning something particularly nasty smelling (green wood?) at 5:30am this morning. The fire continues to burn and it is now after 3:00pm. The neighbor used his fireplace all Christmas weekend, and left it burning all day Sunday. Every time the weather cools down, this wood smoke has become a very real and ongoing problem for me.  The smoke invades my entire house and my front and back yard. At 5:30am, I had to move to the least smoked-out room of my house and try to sleep. I can’t go outside right now because there is so much smoke. My neighbor knows that his smoke is invading my space, because I told him so several years ago.  My pulmonary doctor told me to avoid wood smoke at any cost, telling me the particulate matter was damaging to my lungs. Yet here I sit, a prisoner in my own smoke-filled house. What can I do? Is there no law against wood smoke invading one’s space?”


“Last night was absolutely terrible.  Asthma attack.  Seems like every other house is doing it now.  And no one cares.  I know of a lot of people right who are sick with respiratory illnesses and don’t have a clue that it’s coming from the wood smoke in the neighborhood.  I am fully aware of it and try my hardest to avoid it as much as I can by staying in my house, but the smoke does not discriminate and it creeps in.”


“This morning my home smells like an old ash bucket from the owb next door.We are sick to our stomachs I woke up with my eyes feeling like I couldn’t move them,  like something had dried them out and I coughed all night…my grand daughter is here today.I hate her breathing this.”


“Smoke is filling my house…here goes the throat closing, here comes the chest hurting, here comes the headache.”


“So I received all my tests back a couple of weeks ago and it’s small cell lung cancer and I am scheduled to start radiation and chemo Jan 6.  In 2010 I was smoked out by the neighbors for 16 days and was sick for 6 months and never fully recovered.  I did have a smoking history, but the wood smoke just added to the risk factor.”


“We have been inundated with wood smoke for the past 3.5 years. Our neighbors removed a gas fireplace and installed an EPA approved wood stove.  They did this because of the false claims of health departments, government agencies and the wood burning industry, that makes claims that the new stoves burn cleanly. Unfortunately for us, this has not proved to be the case.  The year before the neighbors installed their indoor wood stove, my wife was hospitalized for 3 months during which time she had MRI’s and chest Xrays that all came back clear.  However, in the fall of the 2nd year of the wood stove operating next door, she was diagnosed with COPD, which now costs us $300.00 a month to help her breathe. This could only be due to the wood smoke we are exposed to in our own home from the neighbor’s wood burning.  Where is our right to breathe?  I cannot imagine the financial loss if I where to sell our home of many years.  If I did sell our house without  disclosing the wood smoke issue, I could then be sued for not disclosing an environmental hazard.”


“I have many pictures of our home engulfed in such smoke.  I have contacted many authorities to help us – but to no avail.   As a matter of fact, what happens is one agency or person says to contact another agency or person and it just goes round and round in circles. Our town officials have zero idea how deadly wood smoke can be, so it is a non-issue for them.  I have spent perhaps close to $4,000 in the past 3 years trying to alleviate our situation which includes taking out much loved trees hoping to change wind patterns.  I contacted 4 different Law firms, none of which would take  our case. One law firm told me if they were to take on our case it would cost $25,000.00 just to get it off the ground — with no guarantee that the judge was not a wood burner himself. Where is our right to breathe?  I cannot imagine the financial loss if I where to sell our home of many years. If I did sell our house without disclosing the wood smoke issue, I could then be sued for not disclosing an environmental hazard.”


“I have been dealing with neighbors burning for about 9 years now. I am surrounded by about 6 neighbors who love to burn at any time. During the summer on hot days and nights they will burn a fire pit in their backyard which is about 20 feet from my window. During the winter these people are using their fireplaces. These fireplace’s that they’re burning in are from the 1940’s when their houses were built.  I’ve heard all kinds of excuses why it’s O.K.  and not hurting me.  I think after about 4 years of smelling wood smoke I started having lung problems having to go to the emergency room with bronchitis and pneumonia every year. Now I have asthma. I’m afraid of what’s going to come next, cancer?”


“The last big fire that my neighbors had in their backyard I had to call the fire department and the paramedics because I couldn’t breathe and the fire department had the nerve to ask me if I had somewhere that I can go?? So let me get this straight, I have to leave my house so these people can burn? Is there something wrong with this picture?”


“I think they should make this a public nuisance and if it’s bothering even 1 person they should be made to put it out. My city keeps telling me that it’s a private nuisance. How do they figure when it’s bothering the whole neighborhood. And most neighbors won’t say anything because they’re afraid of getting yelled at like me.”


“My Cancer Story by Vic Steblin, Dec 08, 2012 Prince George, BC, Canada.  I developed aggressive diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (DLBCL) that progressed to a stage IV tumor eating away my sacrum and lower spinal nerves.  I’ve lived (since1977) with wood smoke and other air pollutants in Prince George, BC, Canada. I am 62 years old.  After reading about my cancer, I discovered that lymphocytes and macro-phages in lungs absorb many of the tiny particles from air pollution and then go to lymph nodes where they often sit for years, sometimes causing changes and sometimes leading to cancer.  I was given 2 months to live except that radiation and chemotherapy works so well against fast growing cancer cells. And I have an axe to grind against needless pollution like wood smoke.  People can also blame pesticides, organic solvents, paint thinners, dioxins and benzene for cancer, but I was most exposed to wood smoke.”


“What can a neighbor do about the wood burner right across from our new $100 million Cancer Center for the North here in Prince George?  I was told by the health officials that he is burning to code.  He grows nice flowers for all the patients to enjoy, yet gives everyone the middle smoke finger, as if he is somehow right!  I am a cancer survivor so far (from lymphoma probably due to surrounding wood smoke) and I am offended.  I think that it would really help if a few key people in the BC Lung Association or the Government like you would take action.  How  can we get rid of needless particulate in crowded areas?  Vehicles, industry and municipal road dust have all improved over the decades, and we now have natural gas in most crowded areas!  So do the no brainer thing and get rid of wood burning in crowded areas.  Education is often ignored by wood burning bullies, whereas actual laws might be respected.”


“Support often softens for more intrusive measures” this is obviously true until people know and understand the consequences, like childhood brain tumors and the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood are linked with using a closed wood heater.”


“I basically just sit in my house like a trapped prisoner to the smoke. Sometimes I just cry. The smoke does not discriminate. Sometimes I will get in my car and try to get away from the smoke somewhere, but this year is worse than the last year because more people are burning more than ever. You can’t go two blocks and not smell it. I can’t wait to open my windows in the morning, seems that’s the only time I get air without smoke. It’s the afternoon now and it’s time to close all the windows because before long someone will be lighting their fire again.”


“I don’t even have to smoke to get cancer now! You wood stove owners are doing that for me! Keep it up…”


“Our ordeal began in 2002.  I can tell you what it is like when one is forced to deal with a smoke issue, as I have lived through it.  The stench permeates your entire home, your clothing, your hair, and you can even taste it.  Exposure to the smoke was extremely uncomfortable and caused burning eyes, dry throat, irritation of the nasal passages and headaches. When the smoke stopped, so did the symptoms.  There was no relief by opening windows because the acrid smells were like a fog covering our house. Buying expensive air cleaners did nothing to remove the odors  There was no enjoying the deck and yard as long as the wood burning stove was in operation.  As there was no provincial or municipal authority to whom I could turn to for help, I was forced to resort to the courts.  In order to get the smell of the wood smoke out of the house, we removed and replaced the carpeting, ductwork,the furnace and air conditioning unit, and cleaned all surfaces including the walls. Mattresses and pillows were discarded as they smelled of wood smoke. It was an expensive project.


“We were fortunate to get legal help.  What would happen to those that cannot afford legal help? Would they be forced to move out of their homes? Could they afford to do that? Would they be able to sell their home when a potential buyer saw or smelled the smoke? Or, would they have to remain in their homes with their children and become sick? It’s a thought that is very disturbing to me.  I think it is high time that our municipalities give some thought to wood burning in residential areas. I fail to see how the public interest is served by permitting smoke from a neighbor’s burning to fill a property and permeate all surrounding homes. Wood smoke is a serious health hazard.”


“Wood smoke has put me in a box.  Wood smoke has forced me to completely re-tool my life. I developed severe asthma in reaction to wood smoke in 2002, just as outdoor recreational wood burning began to craze the nation.  Even a brief exposure can give me a sore throat or  an asthma episode.  Due to wood smoke’s delayed effects, I can also develop bronchitis or pneumonia a few days later, after my entire respiratory tract becomes inflamed.  As an outdoor person who loves to garden, walk, bike and eat meals outdoors, it is devastating to be forced indoors when I want to be outdoors. If we’re entertaining on our patio, I must often retreat indoors and isolate myself, in order to breathe.  Wood smoke is violating our right to use and enjoy our property smoke free. We must keep our windows shut most of the time, in case a neighbor decides to burn wood, because once the smoke’s in the house, it’s just as hazardous to breathe indoors.”


“We can’t open windows even late at night, because late-night burning is increasingly popular and we never know when we may be smoked out.  I can no longer go to public outdoor events where wood is burned for cooking, such as art fairs.  School bonfires have become the norm.  I must use a mask, even going from my car to my house, to avoid wood smoke, because it is seemingly everywhere.  More and more wood burning restaurants are routinely spewing wood smoke onto city streets, sidewalks and nearby neighborhood.  When wood burning began to skyrocket, I researched the hazards of wood smoke.  It was devastating to learn that it is chemically almost identical to tobacco smoke, which everyone should avoid.  I believe that being forced to breathe wood smoke, even on my own property and public spaces, violates the basic civil right to breathe clean air  There are far more prudent alternatives to burning wood.  Wood burning should be prohibited—especially in areas where people live in close proximity, because we all share the air—Julie Mellum.


“We worked like crazy to be able to buy our condo near the beach. When we moved in 16 years ago with our young children we gave little thought to 27 wood burning beach fire rings just 500 feet away.  Our boys were scouts so we sat around plenty of campfires and the troop would gather at the beach fire rings. We knew nothing about the health effects of wood smoke. As a mother, I can’t express how horrified I was when I learned what my kids were exposed to all those years.  We learned it the hard way way my husbands parents could no longer care for themselves in Florida and we had to move them to California. Mom suffered from asthma. The wood smoke that came into our home from the fire rings was sometimes so bad it would set off the smoke detectors… and trigger an asthma attack.  She couldn’t be in our home.  Shortly after Mom died of respiratory distress, a neighbor several doors down the road went to his doctor and discovered he had cancer… he died shortly thereafter. Then we found out another neighbor was being evaluated for lung cancer while his wife was being treated for lung cancer.  When another neighbor  was diagnosed with cancerous tumors on his heart and his lungs we were stunned.  Justin was a non-smoker, and he worked for the police department in a non-smoking environment. Yet his oncologist said his cancer was smoke related.  I sat down and googled “health effects of wood smoke” and had the shock of my life. My family, along with our neighbors, has been exposed to toxic wood smoke for years. Meanwhile, we wonder, who in our neighborhood is next.  It could be me. It could be one of my kids.”


“Last night was absolutely terrible. Asthma attack. Seems like every other house is doing it now. And no one cares. I know of a lot of people right now who are sick with respiratory illnesses and don’t have a clue that it’s coming from the wood smoke in the neighborhood. I am fully aware of it and try my hardest to avoid it as much as I can by staying in my house, but the smoke does not discriminate and it creeps in.”


“What is your family smoking this winter?  Our family is smoking split oak.  Showering down on us for eight to nine months of the year, during the day, during the night, the fire burns 24/7, 240 days, 5760 hours, each winter.  The wind blow north and west 70% of the heating season, carrying a toxic cocktail directly into our life.  There is no escape.  Smoke invades our yard and gets into our home.  It waits at the front door ready to rush in when opened.  It greets our guests on Christmas Day!!!!  It’s drawn in through the dryer vents, exhaust fans, through cracks around the doors.  We are forced to breathe then smoke in the place we call our home.  My neighbor is determined to heat his house with wood, no matter what the outcome is for others.  We asked him to stop numerous times, in person, by letters, and signs, but the fire burns on.  We are just one of many neighbors who are affected.  So what does our future hold?  Wood smoke kills,, we want to live a full life.”


“Living downwind of a wood stove makes you a second class citizen and not worth the bother of right to life, liberty, security of person and enjoyment of property.”


“Billowing smoke from every neighbor.  I have had to cover my mouth with a wet cloth for going on 5 days when the smoke drifts in, which is pretty constant. Waking up with a terrible flu and finding yourself in an ashtray of particulate matter is sheer “HELL.”  Why won’t you who torture your neighbors, really sit down and think about what your cozy lifestyle is really doing. Friend down the street suddenly has cancer. Perhaps we don’t have to look far to figure out why. My quality life is not worth much being housebound with MCS, and the torture of smoke on top of that brings my life into a sub human standard.”


“I had a horse barn that I attended to everyday and was subjected to inordinate amounts of smoke especially with neighbors burning trash, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know when your neighbor is burning trash because it smells like wet garbage. I started to have heart palpitations and began to connect the wood smoke. I suffered from a hacky cough every winter and when the heart palpitations started I figured it had to be from the smoke drifting over into my yard and horse barn.  When the neighbor down the street three houses away set up an indoor stove of whatever kind that is when we really began to have trouble. It was so intense all the time. The smoke just sat in our yard no matter how cold it was. It was overpowering and would come in through the dryer vent and anytime you opened a door, the smoke hung in our garage.  My skin became burnt, my eyes were irritated, I had a hack cough, my sinuses were irritated, not to mention what my horse was suffering. He was heaving all the time.  It was horrible.


“I recently had a stent put in my heart and I have to wonder if I wasn’t exposed to so much direct smoke from wood stoves and open burning would this have happened. I did end up in the ER one time feeling completely toxic and suffering from my heart racing and feeling faint after a weekend of the whole neighborhood open burning and when they tested my blood I did have carbon monoxide levels. My husband’s doctor suggested that when the wood smoke was bad to use his inhaler.  If your community promotes wood burning like ours, we were left sitting ducks.  This completely ruined our lives. We lost the value of our house which when we bought it was reasonable and wanted to live our life there but now we are paying the IRS for the short sale, we took an inheritance and 401k money to move on to live somewhere and  cannot afford to save any money. We cannot put a price on this other than to say we think we lost in excess of $200,000-500,000.”


“I have been exposed to toxic wood smoke in my city of Shoreline, Washington since 2000. This year (2013-14) the wood smoke exposures have been the very worst. There has been non-stop wood burning in my neighborhood for the past three months.  As a result, I have a chronic deep chest cough and a chronic upper respiratory congestion.  During the summer the wood smoke is from backyard campfires and a chimney next door.  Frankly, I’m exhausted from this dealing with this seriously out of control predicament.”


“I moved to my house in 1998. There were about 15 wood stoves within 1,000 feet from my house. My house routinely smelled like some was a barbecue in my living room. There was nothing I could do to keep the smoke out. I spoke with the worst burning neighbor about his stove, and he put out a  “no trespass ” order on me so that I would no longer talk with him about it.  Then I proceeded down a long 15 year road to get help. This included contacting and talking with: US EPA, the  Regional Council of Governors, my Massachusetts State Representative and Senator, The Mass DEP,  The Mass DPH, the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, my Board of Health, and the district health agent.  I contacted the press for coverage of the issue.  No one helped. Not only did no one help, but more often  than not what I heard back was that burning wood was good for the environment.  I could not buy my way out of my situation. Instead, I left my house every night for six months for three years to avoid the smoke exposure, as the heating season here is from September to May.  I have not tried to get a cease and desist order on any particular neighbor It would be like whack a mole. Plus I would be crushed for a judge to say it was okay for a neighbor to fumigate me out of my home. The estimated cost of pursuing  legal relief is $50,000 a shot.”

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