Know Your Risk: Fire Pit Burning
Fire pit burning in both urban and rural areas creates smoke that contains many pollutants and irritants which can cause or aggravate lung health problems as well as negatively impact air quality. It is important that residents of Alberta and the Northwest Territories are aware that fire burning can lead to serious health and environmental consequences.
Environment Canada and Health Canada have identified many hazardous chemical substances in wood smoke, including:
- PM10 (inhalable particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter) consists of a mixture of microscopic particles of varied size and composition, and has been declared a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act. These particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, leading to serious respiratory problems especially among those with pre-existing cardiopulmonary illness.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) can reduce the blood's ability to supply necessary oxygen to the body's tissues, which can cause stress to the heart. When inhaled at higher levels, CO may cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and disorientation and, at very high levels, can lead to unconsciousness and death. Canadian Forces Fire Marshal advises that CO detectors be installed in every home that has a combustion appliance or an attached garage as CO is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas.
- Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) can lower the resistance to lung infections. In particular, nitrogen dioxide can cause shortness of breath and irritate the upper airways, especially in people with lung diseases such as emphysema and asthma.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can cause respiratory irritation, loss of coordination and illness. Some VOCs emitted by wood-burning appliances, such as benzene, are known to be carcinogenic.
- Formaldehyde can cause coughing, headaches and eye irritation and act as a trigger for people with asthma.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemicals produced from the uncontrolled burning of carbon-containing materials. Prolonged exposure to PAHs is believed to pose a cancer risk.
- Dioxins and furans are highly toxic and can pose health risks even at low exposure levels. Exposure of these chemicals has been linked to cancer and developmental disorders.
- Acrolein can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation.
Many Alberta municipalities have their own laws regarding backyard fire pits. The following are links to the fire pit bylaws of some major Alberta towns and cities. If your municipality is not listed here, check with your local city, town, or county offices about fire pit regulations: