When talking a walk is no longer a healthy thing to do

To the Editor:

Are you a person who thinks woodsmoke smells good? It’s toluene you’re smelling, one of many toxins released when wood is burned.

When you smell something, you absorb those molecules.

Toluene is the sweet smell that makes people nostalgic for bright fall days and home and baking apple pies, but “woodsmoke is probably the most toxic type of pollution that the average person ever inhales” says Brian Moench, the head of an advocacy group called Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution.

He goes on to say, “When virtually any single particulate pollution that a person inhales can get distributed and end up in any organ system in the body, you can start to grasp that the disease potential is almost limitless.”

Along with toluene there are over a hundred other toxic chemicals that are created in the combustion of wood, among them formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, arsenic, and sulfur dioxide. Woodsmoke contains nitrogen oxides that cause scarring in the lungs.

Woodsmoke has been linked to many health problems: dementia, hardening of arteries, poor fetal development, reduced cognition, heart disease, and breast cancer, along with the more obvious ones like lung disease, asthma, and emphysema, affecting the oldest and the youngest of us the most.

These chemicals travel for miles and particulate matter is so fine it creeps into houses, gets into bloodstreams, and from there goes into the brain and heart.

Should we allow our wood-burning neighbor to add to the pollution that causes these illnesses? Why?

There are many things we can live without, but breathable air is not one of them.

Even with electrification and other heating options, 30 million people (about the population of Texas) still burn wood as a primary or secondary heat source according to data from the United States Energy Information Administration gathered in 2009. This deadly practice has only increased since then because of so few regulations and every time fuel costs rise more people start burning wood.

Auto and factory pollution have faced some controls but not wood burning. To successfully prove a nuisance case, your neighbor’s smoke must almost set off your smoke alarm.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s website has hundreds of articles warning about the danger of woodsmoke, but their only solution for people is to stay inside. Because of the EPA’s love affair with the wood-burning industry, they have only suggested weak token regulations and put the industry in charge of enforcement.

The reason there is still so much wood burning is that people don’t know how bad it is for them, our seniors, and our children. The facts are there on the EPA website, but you must look for them to find them.

Local authorities will do nothing without public pressure.

People also don’t seem to know here in Guilderland the air is already polluted from the soot, benzene, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases) coming out of too many exhaust pipes on too many nearby roads; the cars all stopping, idling, and accelerating constantly.

Heavy metals from burning gasoline settle on the ground. Other lighter air pollutants travel for miles.

Scroll down on your phone in your weather app to AQI (air quality index) to see how much PM (particulate matter) is in our air each day. Today, on the last day of 2022 at 7:00 a.m., the PM pollution is at 73.

It was 73 yesterday and the day before; 100 is the number at which breathing is not recommended for the elderly, the ailing, and children.

When added to the traffic pollution, the smoke from one or two selfish or ignorant people enjoying a “cozy” woodfire in their home in a crowded neighborhood is enough to contribute to illness for them and everyone else around.

Two different propositions have been passed by New Yorkers giving themselves the right to breathe clean air and live in a healthy environment (wishful thinking): at least a “study” is being done.

Air pollution has to be taken seriously; no more fooling around.

I hate the smell of something burning, but that’s the smell of my neighborhood. Nibbling away at our local “lungs,” the Pine Bush is suicide.

Why bring in more people to an already crowded and polluted area when it means none of us will be able to breathe? More apartment buildings and more big stores creating ever more toxic traffic is unconscionable.

At what point do zoning boards and people in charge of our quality of life say “That’s enough development!” and get serious about air pollution?

The air is too bad to take a walk today.

Joan McKeon


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