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Researchers make disturbing air pollution discovery in small rural town: 'Everyone — from young to old — is inevitably affected'

"We all breathe the same air."

"We all breathe the same air."

Photo Credit: iStock

We continue to find more evidence that traditional indoor heating sources like wood and coal are harmful to our health and the environment.

What's happening?

New research from Germany has revealed that heating with wood and coal can cause significant air pollution, even in small rural areas.

Researchers studying air pollution in Melpitz, Germany, discovered that the air contained carcinogenic particles. During the winter, the pollution in the air was double that of the nearby areas and compounded on the weekends by more people home using wood to heat stoves.

"The emissions take place where people are living. Everyone — from young to old — is inevitably affected because we all breathe the same air," said Dr. Dominik van Pinxteren, one of the researchers.

The study was conducted because it was suspected that wood and coal heating in small residential areas could be potentially harmful, but there was a lack of data to support that claim. 

There's also the lack of infrastructure to consider. "These areas are not adequately covered by official air quality monitoring networks," van Pinxteren said.

Why is wood and coal smoke harmful?

Smoke from sources like wood and coal contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can cause cancer. A recent U.S. study discovered that indoor wood burning increased the risk of lung cancer in women by 43%.

PAHs are also crucial to limit because they are present in wildfire smoke. As the planet heats up, wildfire season is lasting longer and becoming more dangerous. One study found that PAHs from wildfire smoke can accumulate on surfaces once they're indoors.

Breathing in air pollution can also affect your brain health. A study from Ireland found accelerated cognitive decline in older people who use wood and coal to heat their homes.

What can I do?

Swapping dirty energy sources for cleaner ones wherever possible, like changing the way you heat your home, is a great way to start. 

Installing a heat pump can save you up to $700 annually. That, combined with taking steps to adequately weatherize your home, will boost your savings and the amount of pollution you can reduce.

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