Special to The Explorer

It’s cold, for Southern Arizona, prompting people to light a fire.

Those who burn wood exhaust hundreds of chemical compounds, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter, according to the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality. Those compounds can cause health problems, especially for children, pregnant women and people with respiratory ailments and heart disease.

The department says U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified woodstoves, fireplace inserts, and natural gas fireplaces “emit significantly less air pollution than traditional woodstoves and fireplaces.” It urges people who use traditional fireplaces for recreational purposes to voluntarily reduce the number of fires they light, and thereby improve air quality.

“Wood burning is our oldest way of generating heat, but that does not mean it is the best way,” said Beth Gorman, senior program manager at PDEQ. “Every winter I receive calls from community members who cannot walk in their neighborhood due to the effects of wood smoke on their health.”

For healthier burning:

• Burn seasoned hardwoods (oak, mesquite, pecan) instead of softwoods (cedar, fir, pine) because hardwoods burn hotter and form less creosote and smoke.

• Use wood that has been split and dried for at least six months.

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