Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wood smoke creates victims who have real stories to share

Susy Mallin shares with the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society her story about wood smoke and how it has affected her life. She lives in Port Alberni, BC and this woman is out of options. How does your right to burn trump these concerns?

My story is one of a vibrant, creative and full life gone very wrong due to the belief that
burning wood is harmless to ones self and others. I myself once lived under this
misconception and now realize that no one has the right to inflict the terrible toxic harm
that comes from any kind of wood burning.

I had always had a fireplace in my home. In the 70’s I lived in the Slocan Valley and
burned wood as a heat source. My youngest child was a toddler, and developed
bronchitis that became so bad she spent 2-3 months a year for about 3 years in the
hospital in an oxygen tent. No one connected my daughter’s illness to the burning of
wood in our home, and the concentration of wood smoke in the environment which was
created from all of the other homes using wood as well. We moved to Vancouver, a
supposedly much more polluted place than the lovely rural Slocan Valley, and she never
again had to return to the hospital for bronchitis. We know now that it was the wood
burning as she is in her mid 40’s and attempts to avoid woodsmoke as it brings on the
bronchitis and migraines.

In the late 80’s my design career was in full gear. I opened a small jewelry making
business employing about 15 people and sold hand crafted jewelry all over Canada and
the States. Due to some of the chemicals in the industrial glues we used (even though we
used safety precautions) I became ill and found myself slightly sensitive to things that at
one time did not bother me. This illness passed, but the sensitivity to everyday products
became something I lived with. I stopped wearing perfumes, avoided certain cleaning
products, and carried on living. I didn’t give it a lot of thought at the time, as it had not
yet impacted my life in any disabling way.

I had a successful career as a designer, and was also a professional musician. My social
life was wonderful, I had a loving family, owned my own homes at times in the city, and
at times in the gorgeous Gulf Islands. I was very fit and active. The increase in my
sensitivities to chemicals seemed under control and I really had no idea what was to

Slowly my sensitivities intensified. I had always had a fireplace in each of my homes,
and found slowly but surely I was becoming slightly ill each time I burned wood. I
stopped burning wood completely somewhere around 2001. At this point I had only
been burning for ambience for many years. I lived in a rural community at the time, and
began to feel more overwhelmed with how many products were making me ill. I started
the never ending task of attempting to keep the smoke from the other homes around me
from entering the house. It was the beginning of my nightmare, and the beginning of the
end of the life I knew.

In 2010 I made my last appearance as a musician, and socialized at a design event for
the last time. I had become so sensitive to products containing chemicals as well as the
air pollution from petroleum and smoke particulates outside that I became almost
housebound. It was at this time that I was told the name of the illness I was suffering
was Multiple Chemical Sensitivities or Multiple Chemical Injury. I could no longer function in any productive way.

I gave up my house and moved into a small cabin on 2 acres near Gibsons BC. The
neighbours all used wood to heat their homes, burn their trash, have their camp fires...
all year long for one reason or another smoke crept into my little home which was
becoming sealed up with tin foil on the inside and plastic on the outside to prevent
smoke from getting in. Many things made me ill, but smoke was like a terrifying
monster leaving me in convulsions, unable to breathe, walk or speak. I could not leave
the cabin as the air outside was worse than the air inside. I had nowhere to run. This
constant poisoning exacerbated my already debilitating illness and my sensitivities grew
exponentially. I became sensitive even to natural volatile organic compounds. Now even
nature had become my enemy. I could not wear a respirator as I became sensitive to the
materials they are made of, and I could not use oxygen as the metal the tanks are made
from began to contaminate the oxygen inside. I was left with only a ceramic mask with a
piece of organic fabric soaked in filtered water to hold over my face when being
attacked by the fine particulates.

I have moved twice since leaving the cabin, searching for a more smoke free
environment. I am totally housebound now. My son is my full time caregiver. No one
can visit me as I am so sensitive I become ill from whatever chemical product may be
lurking on them. I am sensitive to chemicals in clothing and have a very difficult time
with even organic clothing. I cannot tolerate most heat sources and must spend
thousands of dollars for heaters made for people with my condition and am fortunate to
have found something I can tolerate to stay warm. My entire past is wiped out as far as
life with my children and grandchildren, beloved friends, furniture, clothing, precious
items people collect through life. I cannot have printed material in my home. The list
goes on. It is a life of isolation so devastating. My family visits are over skype or the
phone (both of which I can only tolerate for a small amount of time). I have no wifi,
only the old ethernet system and no cell phone.

Doctors who specialize in this illness say avoidance is the only treatment they know
really works. Constant exposure to smoke was the strong catalyst that drove my illness.
It does not matter how clean you think you are burning. Wood smoke has deadly toxic
chemicals that kill thousands of people yearly. I cannot practice avoidance from
chemicals no matter what I do because people burn wood in every community and
believe it is their right to do so even though they are poisoning themselves, their children
and loved ones and their neighbours.

Shame on all who refuse to see the truth because it impacts their life style. The truth is a
click away as the scientific data is there for all to see.

I have applied for Physician assisted suicide and my doctor, family and friends are all
supportive of this decision. I live like a trapped animal and they have seen this develop
with their own eyes and know it to be truth.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Press release - Wood Smoke is a Serious Health Hazard


Wood Smoke is a Serious Health Hazard

(April 6, 2017, Vancouver, British Columbia)— Vicki Morell feels like a prisoner in her own home. And she warns that if it happened to her and her family, it can happen to you too. 

The misery began 12 years ago when wood smoke from a neighbour’s fireplace began to permeate the Morell family’s home. The smoke gives Morell headaches and causes burning eyes and other health effects. “My wood-burning neighbours have told me that it is their right to burn wood,” said Morell. "But what about my right to breathe fresh clean air in my own home? I don’t understand why the right to burn wood outweighs another’s right to breathe clean air.”

Morell used to think that closing windows would keep out the wood smoke, but she soon discovered that she was wrong. Wood smoke particles are far smaller than the width of a human hair — so tiny that, research has shown, the insides of nearby houses can wind up having nearly 80% of the outside level of wood smoke. If someone living near you burns wood, it is virtually impossible to keep their wood smoke out of your home. 

Morell’s experience led her to establish the Canadian Clean Air Alliance in 2007, which has brought together people across Canada who are also plagued by wood smoke pollution in their neighbourhoods. 

And now this past year Morell and a group of concerned Canadians have joined up with a new science-based international coalition, Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution (DSAWSP). 

One of DSAWSP's founding board members is Dr. Michael Mehta, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Thompson Rivers University. According to Mehta, many people are still not aware that wood burning is a significant health and environmental hazard. He says that DSAWSP was formed to bring the medical and scientific research on wood burning to the general public and to advocate for legal and regulatory protections for neighbours of wood-burning households and businesses.

Modern society has made great strides in eliminating the health hazards of secondhand cigarette smoke, but little has been done to protect people from secondhand wood smoke, even though research suggests that wood smoke may be even more hazardous to human health. Change-out programs of old wood stoves for new ones provide little health protection for the money invested, and may even be counterproductive. Certified wood stoves in actual in-home usage have been shown in multiple studies to be far more polluting than their certification levels suggest, and to release even higher levels of some toxins than older wood stoves. 

According to DSAWSP’s board chair, Utah-based physician Dr. Brian Moench, “Burning ten pounds of wood releases as many toxic chemicals as 6,000 packs of cigarettes. For far too long, wood burning has been given an undeserved free ride by many government agencies. It’s time for the global community to embrace the urgency to eliminate wood burning wherever possible.” For more information on Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution and on the health and environmental hazards of wood burning, see DSAWSP’s website at  


Michael D. Mehta, Ph.D, 250-852-7275  
Brian Moench, MD 801-243-9089
Vicki Morell

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Heating Your Home With Wood Is More Dangerous Than You Likely Realize

Please consider reading this article/declaration on the risks associated with exposure to wood smoke. It was written by a coalition of scientists, physicians, and others. Unfortunately no local media or even provincial media will touch this topic. Please feel free to share it.

Heating Your Home With Wood Is More Dangerous Than You Likely Realize

It may be natural, but there’s nothing safe or environmentally sound about heating your home with wood or clearing debris and yard waste in a burn barrel or pile.

Many communities around North America and elsewhere are grappling with how best to manage exposure to wood smoke, and to understand more fully the community level and individual impacts associated with this serious and growing environmental health risk issue.

Currently 1 in 9 deaths on a global scale are due to air pollution. In Canada, air pollution kills 9 times more people than automobile accidents.  In many rural communities in British Columbia, the main source of air pollution is from wood burning practices at the residential level. In some city neighbourhoods, wood smoke wafts around houses and moves through walls with ease given the small size of the particles contained within it.

The health impacts of exposure to wood smoke are diverse, and a substantial scientific and medical body of evidence points to short-term (acute) effects and longer-term (chronic) effects. Wood smoke is a cocktail of small, dangerous particles and droplets that easily work their way into our lungs, bloodstream, brain, and other organs.

Acute exposure to wood smoke triggers asthma attacks, allergic responses, heart attacks, and stroke. In pregnant women, wood smoke exposure is linked to a range of developmental responses in the fetus that lead to smaller lungs, impaired immune systems, and other abnormalities.

Chronic exposure is definitively linked to heart disease, a range of cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Type II diabetes.

Although children and the elderly are at higher risk, wood smoke affects everyone and its cumulative impacts on our health care systems are becoming more evident.

It is also known that people who heat their homes with wood burning appliances have higher indoor air pollution levels, and that they put neighbours in harms way from these emissions.

Even the cleanest wood burning stoves generate significantly more particulate matter than dozens of diesel trucks and cars combined. Due to their mass and aerodynamic properties, the particles of concerns in wood smoke tend to linger for hours or days at ground level, and atmospheric phenomena including inversions and low venting index days tend to hold these pollutants close to the ground in neighbourhoods where people live and work.

Wood smoke is made up of more than 200 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are significantly more toxic than the chemical mixture found in tobacco smoke. The smell associated with burning wood that many profess to enjoy is actually benzene – one of the most carcinogenic chemicals. Other compounds including phenols (especially syringol) contribute to this bouquet. Wood smoke also releases significant amounts of dioxins, furans, heavy metals, and other equally hazardous chemicals.

Burning wood to heat your home is problematic from an environmental perspective too.  It is well established that black carbon released from biomass burning acts as a powerful short-lived climate changing pollutant. This soot is circulated in the atmosphere, absorbs and retains incoming heat from the Sun, and lands on glaciers thus accelerating their rate of melting and retreat.

Burning wood is not a carbon neutral source of energy either, and many new studies conclude that it is a disaster for climate change. Burning wood releases more carbon per unit of energy than burning coal. The burning of trees immediately puts decades’ worth of stored carbon into the atmosphere. This carbon would otherwise be locked into the soil where it plays an important ecological role in forests through processes of decomposition, nutrient cycling, and supporting new growth.

In communities where wood burning for residential heating is common, much of the wood used is trucked in from wood lots. The environmental footprint of this practice needs to be more fully understood. Additionally, importing wood from elsewhere does nothing to reduce the risk of forest fires in communities who use these products. In fact, the use of wood burning appliances actually increases fire risk through chimney fires, release of stray sparks, and the storage of large amounts of combustible material around homes.

There are currently many alternatives to wood for residential heating applications. A hierarchy based on impact, cost-effectiveness, and emergency preparedness is one way to think about these choices. For everyday heating, mini-split air source heat pumps are an excellent option. They are often 3 to 4 times more efficient than using electric baseboard heaters, and can work in colder climates with the correct choice of technology. They are also less expensive to operate than buying several cords of wood each year. Consider also the convenience of simply clicking a button to heat your home.

Efficient propane stoves and heaters are an excellent complement to heat pumps and can provide top-up heating on very cold days as well as backup heating during power outages. Wood stoves should only be used during extended power outages on cold winter days, and can be thought of as the equivalent of a standby generator. As a rule of thumb, people should wait for at least three hours during a power outage before starting a fire. We would never dream of running a generator every day to power our homes, and similarly the use of a wood stove for daily heating should be reconsidered.

Regional and municipal governments have been reluctant to deal with these issues for a range of reasons. The vocal and sometimes vitriolic response by the wood burning industry and its customers often drowns out reasoned discussion, and many elected officials perceive this issue as unwinnable or perhaps a form of “political suicide.” Instead, passing the buck is common and local governments play a game of hot potato where neither wants to step in to protect people from a well-established health risk.

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment has been dancing around this issue for decades as well, and only offers to study the problem in more detail. Given that many of these government meteorologists can barely predict weather patterns with any accuracy, relying on them to protect our health from air pollution is sheer folly.

Perhaps we need a different approach and a different provincial lead on this topic. Since wood smoke is primarily a human health issue, and the air shed is shared by all, it makes sense that the British Columbia Ministry of Health become the natural home for wood smoke and other air pollution issues. In general, municipal governments have shown that they are incapable of acting decisively and strongly to protect public health and the well-being of people in their communities.

Other actors have also played a decidedly obstructionist role in moving toward protection of the public interest on this issue. The BC Lung Association has been a strong advocate of wood stove exchange programs. Working with the hearth industry and the provincial government, the BC Lung Association has legitimized a flawed technology. So-called “clean” EPA certified stoves are not the solution. These stoves never perform in the real world as well as laboratory tests indicate, emit more dioxins and furans due to their higher operating temperature, and begin to degrade in terms of performance very quickly. They also emit hundreds of times more pollution than using natural gas, propane, and other hydrocarbon-based home heating appliances.

Community groups are leading the charge on raising awareness of this issue. For far too long our local and provincial governments in British Columbia have ignored wood smoke and downplayed the significance of this risk issue. In many rural communities and in smaller cities, governments have dropped the ball for decades and refuse to adequately monitor air quality citing budgetary and personnel limitations. Concerned citizens have set-up an extensive and growing network of low-cost air quality monitors made by PurpleAir. 

Kamloops currently has 15 of these WiFi-enabled, real-time particle sensors. Other communities in British Columbia with this technology include Parksville, Duncan, Courtenay, Lasqueti Island, Gabriola Island, Vancouver, Victoria, and Prince George. These monitors can be viewed at

To date, the monitors in Kamloops, Gabriola Island, Parksville, and Courtenay are showing a very distinct and troublesome pattern. Because of wood smoke, these communities have in some locations air pollution levels during winter months that far exceed levels seen in large cities like Victoria and Vancouver. Some of our sensor locations have regular readings that rival bad air days in China and India. A sensor located at Ord Road in Kamloops often displays these kinds of readings.

Wood smoke is creating hyper-local hot spots that expose people in the immediate neighbourhood to levels of air pollution not normally recorded by provincial air quality monitors. A “swarm” of distributed monitors using PurpleAir technology is revealing a deep and significant problem that was previously undetected.

Wood smoke, and the cultural and social practices that allow it to be generated without much regulation and control, operates in a vacuum where preconceptions, origin stories, and strong emotions impair action. We need another narrative. Dealing compassionately yet effectively with wood smoke is part of this transition to a green, clean, and healthy future.

Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution


Gabriola Island Clean Air Society

Families For Clean Air

Thompson Rivers University ECO Club

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The risk is high but the apathy is much larger

If you thought that air pollution was a more general phenomenon, you thought wrong. Wood smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces creates these hyper local risk environments. These screenshots show how massively different risk levels can be from one spot on Gabriola Island to another. The reading of 157 on the AQI scale is very high and what you would expect in Beijing or Delhi and not a little island of 4000 people with no industry or traffic. Note how much higher these readings are from other spots with AQIs of 1 only a few kilometres away. The graph in the second image shows the prototypical pattern from wood burning and nothing else.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Extreme risk in your neighbourhood looks like this

Here once again is the power of data and the "swarming" approach that we have on Gabriola Island and elsewhere thanks to low-cost, realtime air quality sensors made available through PurpleAir. Our 8 sensors on Gabriola Island show the hyperlocal effects of wood burning on local air sheds. The Berry Point Road sensor is showing a sustained and dangerous pattern of particulate pollution for the past hour. You should also note the sawtooth pattern on roughly an hourly basis that accompanies wood burning from wood stoves and fireplaces. This is an extremely risky environment to live around, yet the cognitive dissonance and the rationalizations of those who generate problems like this create blind spots. This is why regulation and a proactive position by local governments is needed, and also why other organizations like the BC Lung Association need to come out strong against all wood burning.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A visual representation of what hazardous wood burning actually looks like

Just another day here on Gabriola Island and another example of the hyper local effects of wood burning on air quality. This particular chimney (connected to an EPA airtight wood stove) is almost solely responsible for these unacceptably high readings. Note the other readings on the island from our "swarm" of PurpleAir sensors to see the localization of the effect.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Learning how to identify industrial sources of pollution

Here's a good example from our 8 PurpleAir sensors on Gabriola Island of industrial pollution affecting the entire region. We're guessing that this is pollution from the Harmac mill in Nanaimo given the shape of the curve, distribution and timing at different sensors with those located closer to the mill spiking first. There was a uniform increase in levels across all sensors between 7-8PM tonight. This rules out other sources like domestic wood burning although a more detail-oriented eye will see those spikes as well within individual patterns - it may also suggest the arrival of an inversion.

Friday, 2 December 2016

This is really what's behind wood stoves in North America

The HPBA is the main lobby group for the wood stove industry, and a major driver behind wood stove exchange programs. Look at how they're marketing their 2017 Expo and tell us again why you want to be any part of this BC Lung. See

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Spoiling An Otherwise Clean Air Day

Here's another excellent example of how wood burning for home heating pollutes a neighbourhood. Look at how clean the air is in most other locations. Our sensor on Jolly Brothers Road on Gabriola Island went into the hazardous zone, and the see-saw pattern is wood burning without a doubt.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A comparison of weekly particulate levels across sample cities and towns

There are lots of ways to look at measurements for air pollution and different time frames that people and regulators look at. If we look at the weekly average for particulate at the PM 2.5 scale across several PurpleAir sensors, some interesting and troubling trends become evident.
Here are some 7 day averages from a sample of sensors in British Columbia and one wild card sensor - downtown Los Angeles near Dodger Stadium. LA is known around the world for the poor quality of its air.
Here's what we see. The worst weekly average in Canada can be found in Prince George BC with 16.06. Prince George has an active pulp and paper mill, other significant sources of industrial pollution, and lots of people who burn wood for residential heating.

In Parksville we see a weekly average of 10.85. This is mostly a retirement community on Vancouver Island and the readings from this sensor are likely due fully to wood smoke emissions from residential sources.

One of our sensors is Kamloops is 800m away from an active pulp and paper operation and its weekly average is 8.34. Based on a review of past data from this sensor there appears to be little residential wood burning in this area. Wood smoke has a very specific and identifiable signature.

Downtown Vancouver has a weekly average of 3.9. This is a city with 600,000 people, a fair amount of vehicular traffic, but wood burning is not commonly practiced at the residential level.

Our wildcard of LA had a weekly average of 12.88.

It should be clear that wood burning is a main driver of air pollution in many communities, and you may be surprised to see worse air pollution this time of year in small cities and towns in BC when compared to Vancouver and LA.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

Wood smoke is the new second-hand cigarette smoke

Wood smoke is the new second-hand cigarette smoke. This article and television news clip makes some excellent points.

To read the article and view the video click here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Clean "country" air is an illusion

If you moved to the "country" for clean air and a healthy lifestyle it's time to rethink things. Right now air quality on Gabriola Island is mosty in the warning zone due to wood burning appliances like woodstoves and fireplaces with air quality readings of over 100. By contrast downtown Vancouver at rush hour is in the 50s and downtown Victoria is in the teens.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The local effects are staggering and patently unfair

We have a very serious wood smoke problem here on Gabriola Island, and there is no doubt that almost 100% of the problem is due to individuals burning wood at home for residential heating. Here's a snapshot from 10:30AM on October 10, 2016, of a new sensor in the Pat Burns area. This level of particulate matter exposure is very hazardous. Note the other readings in the region, especially the sensor only 400m away (as the crow flies) with a reading of 7 at the same time.

Friday, 7 October 2016

We now have 8 sensors on Gabriola Island

As of today, Gabriola Island BC probably has the highest concentration of air quality monitors in the world. Our non-profit uses 8 PurpleAir sensors to provide real time data for an island of 14km by 4km in size with a full time population of around 4000. Why so many? The island has simultaneously some of the world's best and worst air quality, and it can vary from block to block based on the concentration and frequency of residential wood burning activities. To see our sensors go here.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The anatomy of a health crisis: One night in little Beijing (aka Gabriola Island)

The anatomy of a public health crisis: Wood smoke and its hyper local and rapid degradatory effects on air quality on Canada's west coast.
This could be the title of a scientific paper that I am working on. Here are some snapshots from this evening of how one wood stove in a neighbourhood can harm health. It is a graphic example of how localized the effects are and why more distributed monitoring is needed. Of course, it's useless to monitor unless their are penalties for exposing people to such high risk, day after day, year after year.
This time series is from October 2,2016, and it captures snapshots starting at 17:46 and ending at 20:12
Note the good clean air across all six regional PurpleAir sensors initially, and how degraded the Berry Point sensor on Gabriola Island gets. There are real people living near that sensor who are suffering and likely having their lives shortened.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

How to understand PurpleAir sensor readings

Air pollution has a unique signature depending on the source or sources, location, baseline, magnitude of change, and the mechanisms by which it is produced. Here are some simple ways to identify what's happening when reading PurpleAir monitors like what we have here.
The first image is from a rural community. Note the good quality air with PM2.5 levels between 1 and 2 with a sudden but short-lived spike to 7.5 at 11:15AM. This is a pattern I have seen before and it represents a dirty diesel truck (most likely a water truck) going past the sensor.
The second image represents normal variation on a good air quality day. 
The third image is from a city with the sensor reflecting activity from a local pulp and paper mill and local traffic.

The last image is a rural community snapshot of a good day punctuated by what happens when a wood stove or fireplace is lit nearby. Note the sudden and dramatic increase in pollution and the saw tooth pattern as the stove get to a higher temperature, but when opened and new wood is introduced, the spike occurs again but it's usually not as high as the initial lighting.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Bearing witness to harm by thorough documentation

Documenting wood smoke pollution is an important and necessary step toward increasing awareness of its behaviour and effects.

Taking photographs and measurements of wood smoke pollution is not a crime - even if uninformed local police departments believe that doing so is a kind of criminal harassment.

For example, Metro Vancouver suggests that the following be pursued if wood smoke from a neighbour is having an impact on you:

- Keeping a wood smoke diary to record the frequency of incidents and their impact on you and your family.

- Talking to your neighbours to see if they are affected and willing to make impact statements.

- Taking photographs or video of the smoke, especially if it enters your property.

- Contacting Metro Vancouver as soon as you observe wood smoke so that an Officer might attend the scene.

- Giving permission to Metro Vancouver to set up monitoring equipment on your property.

The hyper local effects of wood smoke

The PurpleAir PM2.5 network shows in real-time exactly the contribution of wood smoke to the air shed. Here's a snapshot of air quality readings from just a moment ago from one of our sensors on Gabriola Island. Note the readings of the other sensors nearby and in Parksville. This is not industrial pollution, vehicles, road dust or anything else except a neighbour near this sensor who continues to burn wood in spite of the evidence of harm. Note the telltale pattern of combustion with cooling and the addition of more wood.

Also, compare this to the air quality reading from the same minute taken at a monitor close to the Harmac Pulp and Paper Mill in Nanaimo.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A week of data from one of our monitors

With the PurpleAir monitors that we now have running in Canada, data can be downloaded and analyzed like this. Here's data from one sensor on Gabriola Island for the first week of September 2016 on a minute by minute basis. This chart is based on 12,748 samples.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Live Feed Of Air Quality From Gabriola Island And Parksville

The PurpleAir monitors are working extremely well and provide useful real-time data that looks like this in map form.

By clicking on an individual monitor and going to the Real Time tab you will see trend data like this.

To access our monitors click here.