A new film called The Cost of Wood Heating was released by Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley and features Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for Vancouver Island north and a number of local residents who are affected by wood smoke.
“Many like to think of wood heating as a pleasurable and inexpensive source of heat,” says Jennell Ellis, a volunteer with Breathe Clean Air who is also in the film.
“But as the film highlights, children and adults who are exposed to wood smoke are experiencing very real costs to their health, to their emotional well-being and to their finances.”
The nine-minute film outlines a range of known health effects caused by wood smoke, including asthma, reduced lung function, heart disease, lower birth weights, stroke and shorter life spans.
Enns notes that when there are spikes in fine particulates, which come from wood smoke in the Comox Valley, there are “associated spikes in hospital presentations especially for heart disease or underlying lung disease.”
She also explains that many of the carcinogenic chemicals in cigarette smoke are also found in wood smoke.
“I often hear people say that someone who gets sick from wood smoke must be really sensitive or something, which they would never dream of saying to someone who gets sick from second-hand cigarette smoke,” said Enns. “Wood smoke is just as toxic, and there is far more of it in our air.”
People in the film talk about impacts on their own health or the health of their families. Natasha Umpleby’s daughter has a diagnosed eye allergy to wood smoke.
Stella Chester talks about the emotional impact of being made sick by wood smoke.
Dr. Marie-Clare Hopwood, a family doctor, expresses concern about the impact of wood smoke on her young children’s developing lungs and their future increased risk of lung and heart disease.
“I am really not sure why in 2018 we still believe that wood smoke isn’t causing harm,” adds Dr. Hopwood.
The film points toward the need for solutions as well. Ellis notes a number of approaches that can help clean up the air, including providing incentives for non-wood burning appliances, keeping other sources of energy affordable, capping the number of wood stoves, and protecting people in their own homes from the intrusion of wood smoke.
The film was made by J. Moors as part of the Comox Valley Art Gallery’s Youth Media Project. It is available on Breathe Clean Air’s website at www.breathecleanair.ca/resources.