Health Topics

Wood Burning & Air Quality

Indoor wood burning and outdoor open burning result in air pollutant emissions and a range of health impacts. These emissions contribute to smog.

Wood burning emits pollutants such as:

  • particulate matter
  • sulphur oxides
  • nitrogen oxides
  • carbon monoxide
  • carbon dioxide
  • volatile organic compounds
  • dioxins and furans
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Hamilton's Open Air Burning By-law No. 02-283 (PDF, 23 KB) regulates open air burning.  There is not a by-law in Hamilton that regulates indoor wood burning.

Wood smoke can cause irritations such as:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

Air pollution has been linked to increased hospital admissions, asthma and other respiratory diseases and premature death.

Wood smoke can affect everyone’s health. Those most sensitive to smoke and its health effects include:

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • Seniors
  • People with asthma, allergies, heart problems or lung conditions

Those who work, play sports or exercise outdoors are also at risk.

The best way to reduce exposure to wood smoke is to avoid burning wood.  If you do burn wood, consider switching to a natural gas fireplace, which has lower emissions than the most efficient woodstoves.

Here are some other things you can do to protect yourself and others:

  • Replace older wood burning equipment with new, high-efficiency, low emission units
  • Buy a wood stove approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency and certified by the Canadian Standards Association
  • Start fires with newspaper and dry kindling
  • Try a mix of different hardwoods and softwoods in your fire
  • Burn only clean, dry and well-seasoned wood and newsprint
  • Do not burn garbage, cardboard, plastics, painted or treated wood, particleboard, plywood or glossy magazines - these release toxic chemicals into the air
  • Keep fires small and hot
  • Remove ashes regularly from your woodstove and place in a metal container stored outside your home
  • Place cold ashes in paper bags and dispose in your Green Bin 
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned at least once a year
  • Install and regularly check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Ensure that new stoves and fireplace inserts are professionally installed by a technician certified under the Wood Energy Technical Training (WETT) program
  • If you live in a neighbourhood where wood-burning is common, keep your windows closed and seal areas where drafts occur
  • Ask your neighbours if your wood smoke is affecting them