A new study from McGill University finds that for elderly people living in Canada’s small cities and towns, the risk of acute myocardial infarction is increased by 19 per cent by wood-burning stoves.
Smog warnings are seemingly a fact of life in big cities like Montreal, especially on cold winter days when more residents are burning wood in fireplaces and stoves. Environment Canada issued smog warnings in early January and mid-February of this year for Montreal and areas north and south of the city, citing poor air quality in large part due to fine particulate matter from wood stoves.
Montreal is taking steps to clean up the problem, however, adopting a plan for stricter air-pollution regulations, including a requirement that residents register their wood-burning fireplaces and stoves and then, by October 1, 2018, to have them replaced with stoves meeting stricter emissions standards.
But air quality problems due to wood burning are an issue in smaller cities and towns, too. New research led by Scott Weichenthal of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill looked at the link between short-term changes in ambient fine particulate matter within three small cities in BC, Prince George, Kamloops and Courtenay/Comox and the rate of hospital admissions for heart attack among elderly residents.
While previous research has shown wood and biomass burning to be associated with increased inflammation, increased arterial stiffness and decreased heart rate variability, the new research draws a line specifically between wood burning and heart attack. The researchers found that during cold months when wood stoves and fireplaces are most in use, the risk of heart attack among residents aged 65 and higher increased by 19 per cent.
“We noticed that the association was stronger when more of the air pollution came from wood burning,” says Weichenthal in a press release. “This suggests that the source of pollution matters and that all particulate air pollution is perhaps not equally harmful when it comes to cardiovascular disease.”
Weichenthal hopes that in the interest of public health, municipalities small and large across the country take heed of the message and adopt tougher regulations for wood burning.
Across Canada, various municipalities are already taking steps in that direction. In Halifax, a citizen-submitted petition has recently sparked city council to look into new rules for wood burning stoves and fireplaces. In the city of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, government officials have recently set emission standards for wood smoke, requiring all home wood stoves to be up to snuff. And in central Canada, the province of Ontario earmarked $400 million in its budget last year for a program to replace old wood stoves with more high efficiency stoves.
But leaving the regulating up to regional municipalities may not be the best approach. As reported by the Globe and Mail, the United States requires that the manufacture and sale of all wood-burning fireplaces and stoves be governed by standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, while in Canada, no such nationwide requirements are in place. Here, the Canadian Safety Association (CSA) only sets voluntary guidelines, giving homeowners the option to purchase less efficient (and cheaper) stoves if they so choose and ultimately putting the burden on municipalities to set their own regulations.