Letters to the Editor

Air quality: Wood smoke a winter health risk

Robin Evans-Agnew and Chris Eberhardt, Tacoma

Re: “Why not go after the real polluter?” (letter, 3-13).

We commend the writer’s concerns about diesel and cancer risk, but our wood smoke study (TNT, 3-4) was focused on the total health risks of fine-particulate matter, of which diesel is not the largest contributor in the winter months. In fact, 53 percent of this pollution comes from wood smoke and only 5 percent comes from diesel.

Second, contrary to popular belief, wood-burning might be carbon neutral only if replacement trees are planted. In fact, wood-burning might be far more harmful for climate change than the writer thinks.

Burning wood emits more carbon dioxide (per unit of energy) than coal or natural gas. If the climate change goal is to immediately start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and particulate matter being emitted, it is better not to burn wood but instead to use it as a carbon sink by letting it quietly rot in the ground.

The youth in our study cared about the burden low-income people in our area have heating their homes. But the answer cannot be to continue to burn wood; the answers instead should include greater efforts to weatherize homes and reduce the need for any type of heating in the first place.

(Evans-Agnew and Eberhardt are air quality researchers who led the wood smoke study project.)