Fireplaces, Wood-burning Stoves Can Increase Risk of DNA Damage
Millions of people this winter will use a fireplace or wood-burning stove as a source of heat. Unfortunately, combustion of biomass and wood can contribute substantially to air particulate matter that can be traced to DNA damage and possibly even cancer, according to a review of research conducted by Denmark researchers and published by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Air Particles Produced From Wood-Burning Can Negatively Affect Health
Exposure to particulate matter (PM) from ambient air is already associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The toxicological mechanisms of PM-related health effects are thought to involve the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), oxidative stress, and inflammation. Oxidative stress can induce damage to DNA and inflammation can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease.
Steffen Loft PhD and colleagues reviewed 39 scientific journals published by the ACS and found an abundant amount of scientific evidence that links inhalation of fine particles of air pollution from motor vehicle exhaust, coal-fired electric power plants, and other sources to many health conditions. However, they found that there was not a lot of information related to the effects of wood smoke particulate matter (WSPM), so they collected air particle matter from a Denmark village in which the residents regularly used wood burning stoves and from a rural area that did not have a significant contribution from wood stoves.
The particles that were collected from the air most affected by wood-burning tended to be of the most potentially hazardous size – small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs and can accelerate hardening of the arteries. The researchers stated that it was the equivalent of inhaling car exhaust.
When tested on cultures of human cells, WSPM caused more damage to the genetic material, more inflammation, and had greater activity in turning on genes that were linked to disease. The WSPM also contained higher levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which include “probable” human carcinogens.
In addition to fine particulate matter, wood burning fireplaces and stoves can release gases such as nitrogen dioxide which can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, exacerbating asthma and carbon monoxide which can increase the risk of death. Other toxic compounds include formaldehyde, benzene, methyl chloride, and methyl ethyl ketone, all which can cause negative health effects when they penetrate deep into the lungs.
Dr. Loft says that to reduce the risk of WPSM effects, those who burn wood in fireplaces or stoves should only use dry wood cut into small pieces and ensure that there is good air flow in the room to minimize exposure to particles. A HEPA filter may also be an easy and accessible way to reduce particulate concentrations, per previous research conducted by Canadian scientists.
Pernille Høgh Danielsen, Peter Møller, Steffen Loft et al. Oxidative Stress, DNA Damage, and Inflammation Induced by Ambient Air and Wood Smoke Particulate Matter in Human A549 and THP-1 Cell Lines. Chemical Research in Toxicology, 2011; 110114093314035 DOI:10.1021/tx100407m