MODULE 1 Health and Environmental Effects of Smoke

How to Reduce Adverse Health Effects from Burning

Reduce adverse health effects by burning only on burn days, burning only allowed materials, burning properly and/or employing one of the many alternatives to burning.  Allowed materials include vegetation from trees, vines, brush, leaves, lawn clippings and dry plants originating on the property where the burning will occur. Observe minimum drying times of three days for leaves and pines needles, and six weeks for trees, stumps and large branches greater than six inches in diameter. These time periods are minimums. Longer drying periods may be necessary to ensure smoke emissions are minimized. Maintain a hot fire, so that less air pollution is created.  Locate your pile as far away from neighbors and residences as possible.  Be mindful of the wind patterns and the direction of the smoke plume.  Curtail burning if smoke drifts toward your neighbors and becomes a nuisance.  Avoid burning during the morning or early evening to avoid inversion layer conditions.  Remember, localized weather patterns and topography can create conditions unfavorable to burning, even if it’s a Burn Day for the region.

Moisture in Wood

Burning wood not properly dried (seasoned) generates much more smoke than dry wood.  The US Environmental Protection Agency's Burn Wise Program has produced these two Public Service Announcements on the topic.

“Wet Wood is a Waste” (2 minute video) explains how to use a simple moisture meter to test wood to see if it is dry enough to burn. Moisture meters are available in all sizes and can cost as little as $20.  Properly dried wood should have a reading of 20% or less.

“Split, Stack, Cover, Store” (2 minute video) provides four easy steps on how to dry wood for proper use in wood stoves or fireplaces. They are: 

Split wood to a variety of sizes but no larger than a six-inch wedge 
Stack wood away from a building and off the ground on a pallet with split side down to promote drying 
Cover the top of wood with a tarp or woodshed 
Store wood to allow it to dry. This can be 6-12 months, depending on the type of wood. 


This completes the Heath and Environmental Effects of Smoke module.

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