Oregon Department of Environmental Quality data released Wednesday shows 12.8 million pounds of particulate pollution matter are released into Oregon’s air by woodstoves and chimneys each year.
The agency said that’s more than half of the pollution from the 2017 Sonoma County wildfires in northern California which emitted an estimated 20 million pounds of fine particles known as PM 2.5.
“Annual particulate matter levels emitted from wood smoke are close to that of a wildfire,” DEQ’s Susan Mills said.
The Oregon Environmental Council obtained the DEQ data and released it in a report. The council’s Jamie Pang said the findings were based on information gathered from residents and volunteers around the state who shared their woodburning habits with the DEQ and the numbers could be worse.
“It’s a really conservative estimate … because it was only done on residential wood burning habits. It doesn’t take into account woodburning effects from commercial or business woodburning, such as restaurants that have woodstoves or chimneys for ambiances,” Pang said. “So, arguably this data doesn’t even fully capture the full scope of this problem.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PM 2.5 particles are so small they can be inhaled and get deep into your lungs; they may even get into your bloodstream.
Some of the health risks include respiratory symptoms, asthma, eye irritation, bronchitis or lung diseases. Other pollutants emitted by burning wood include nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, dioxins and toxic gases.
The three counties that produce the highest levels of fine particulate pollution are the Portland area's Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, with well over 1.3 million pounds of PM 2.5 pollution.
“Multnomah County and the Portland metro area, we make up the vast majority of the population here. So it’s really just a statistical probability who’s burning their chimney, who's using it as a secondary source of heat and the number of woodstoves that are being used,” Pang said.
Oregon Environmental Council and the DEQ are encouraging people to decrease the amount of wood burned at home. The DEQ has increased funding to help those households switch out their woodstoves to cleaner heating systems.
“The state Legislature recently provided DEQ with funds, specifically to give to cities and counties in the form of grants. Those grants are being used to help individual households swap out their dirty woodstoves for cleaner sources of heat,” Mills said.