Until fairly recently some chapters of the Canadian Lung Association and the American Lung Association have seemed at times to be focused almost exclusively on the issue of tobacco reduction in their public education efforts via social media. Of late though, the issue of radon (along with various business owners and technicians associated with what appears to be a rapidly growing industry) has also been given a great deal of attention – while website entries and social media posts from many Lung Association chapters about the environmental and lung health impacts of air pollution are now even more rare by comparison.
By contrast: in the United States, the American Lung Association in California, and in Canada, the Lung Association of Quebec have often stood out in their own commendable efforts to raise public awareness about the harmful health impacts of biomass burning, and have been instrumental in helping to implement higher standards and better public policies for protecting public health – such as the City of Montreal’s proactive ban on new wood stove installations.
But some other North American Lung Association chapters do not appear to consistently maintain the kind of strong stand against residential wood burning that all lung health educators really should. The Lung Association, Alberta & NWT, for example, has devoted a separate page on its website to the issue of radon even though, unlike the well-documented health effects of residential wood smoke, the webpage states that, “There is no evidence that radon exposure causes respiratory diseases such as asthma, or symptoms such as persistent coughing.”
However The Lung Association, Alberta & NWT has not yet created a separate webpage for the issue of residential wood smoke. Disappointingly, at present the website’s only information on wood smoke is provided in a page on “Forest Fires” and another entitled “Fire Pit Burning” – the latter of which gives the extremely erroneous and irresponsible advice to:
Build a proper fire pit, taking into account the distance from buildings (minimum 2 metres), size of the pit (1 metre diameter maximum), and having a means to extinguish the fire.
“Only burn the proper fuels,” the webpage adds, which, according to other misinformation given on the webpage, can include “Clean, dry wood.” This fails completely to address the serious lung health impacts of burning wood in any neighbourhood environment, and fails to inform the public that – as with cigarette smoke or wildfire smoke – the smoke produced by burning “clean, dry wood” contains particles and gases that are unhealthy to breathe, especially for those most vulnerable, including children and all people with existing health concerns. To see such misinformation on a Lung Association website is both astonishing and highly concerning. In fact, it is completely inexcusable. Hopefully The Lung Association, Alberta & NWT will soon review its website’s wood smoke information and will update its website in order to better promote clean air and lung health protection, as per the organization’s stated mandate. * http://www.ab.lung.ca/site/fire_pit_burning
* Edit – December 20, 2016: The above harmful advice about how to burn wood was finally removed from The Lung Association, Alberta & NWT’s “Fire pit burning” webpage in November 2016, but unfortunately, TLA’s outdated information had already been referenced in an October 28, 2016 High River Times article, “Little concern over fire pits, fire chief.” As I wrote in an email about this issue to The Lung Association, Alberta & NWT in early November:
…In addition, the list of Alberta bylaws that currently permit the harmful practice outdoor wood burning in neighbourhood environments is also still on the website, giving to the public the unhelpful impression that TLA actually condones those bylaws – bylaws which are in fact poorly-informed, and detrimental to community health and air quality. Please consider removing the list of harmful bylaws.
Please also, hopefully as soon as possible, either revise or remove the portion of the information quoted below – which was published on your website prior to October, 2013, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified particulate matter and outdoor air pollution as Carcinogenic to Humans (Group 1). https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/pr221_E.pdf
…As it is presented currently, the information on TLA’s “Fire pit burning” webpage may have recently had a role in discouraging public officials in High River, Alberta from taking steps toward banning the harmful and outdated practice of residential outdoor wood burning. By being referenced in the October 28, 2016 High River Times article, “Little concern over fire pits, fire chief,” the outdated and poorly-worded information that your website currently presents has not helped to protect the lung health of children, seniors, and other vulnerable people from the lung-damaging pollution that is caused by outdoor wood burning.
Please note that a number of cities, including Vancouver, do not permit outdoor wood burning to take place within the city, for health and environmental reasons.
Won’t you please begin to do more help to protect the lung health of all Albertans, by clearly and strongly advising people to avoid burning wood whenever possible? Your organization’s current “Fire pit burning” webpage at this link would be a good place to begin helping to make more of a positive difference, in the growing movement toward greater protection of air quality and lung health in communities.
Whether omissions on the part of some Lung Association chapters (via website entries and social media posts) of the lung health and environmental impacts of air pollution from sources including residential wood smoke have happened deliberately or by oversight, there should never be any question of placing – even inadvertently – financial or other interests of the biomass industry, or of any other industry (or potential donations and other funding associated with those industries) above the goal of protecting clean air and the health of people. Protecting and improving lung health – while advocating for the highest standard of clean air possible – can and should be every Lung Association chapter’s clear and unwavering aim.
I believe that all Lung Association chapters must endeavour to do more to help raise public awareness of the harmful impacts of air pollution from sources including outdoor burning, industrial biomass combustion, and residential wood heating. The lung health of people depends upon it – and lung health supporters should expect nothing less than an uncompromisingly strong stand for clean, healthy, smoke-free air from every Lung Association chapter.
- The hearth industry lobbies all levels of government in opposing clean air legislation
- Hearth Industry Business Interests are Not Lung Health Interests