2013 Dec. 15: WI Lacrosse: OWBs pose risk

Increased exposure to outdoor wood-fired boilers could be dangerous to human health. 

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, people who breathe wood smoke and creosote on a regular basis have the potential to develop respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Particulate matter, a toxic air pollutant found in wood smoke, can seep into the lungs and cause eye and nose irritation, headache, wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

People who are diagnosed with heart disease, asthma, emphysema or other respiratory diseases are at a higher risk than those without.  Senior citizens and young children are also more susceptible.

Whether a person will develop health problems from outdoor wood-fired boilers depends on how often he or she is exposed to the smoke.


David Liebl, pollution prevention specialist with UW-Cooperative Extension, said pollution can be especially bad in areas that have high ridges and low valleys. Smoke generated by outdoor wood-fired boilers is stronger than other kinds of smoke because the boiler maintains slower, cooler fires.

Outdoor wood-fired boilers can also be installed in poor locations and therefore cause more smoke to enter a home.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Admini-stration, about 9 percent ofWisconsin homes use wood to heat their home. According to the American Census Bureau, 18 percent ofVernon County and 17 percent of Crawford County households rely on wood to heat their homes.

“The main problem with wood smoke exposure is that wood smoke travels very easily into homes,” he said. “It can have a significant impact of people nearby.”

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