My guest today is Mary Rozenberg, Co-Founder of the Burning Issues website, a project of the nonprofit organization Clean Air Revival. We’ll be talking about particulate pollution in outdoor air, how you are contributing to it, and how it is affecting your own health and the health of others. Since 1987, Mary and members have been working tirelessly to improve ambient outdoor air quality through the reduction of Fine Particulate Pollution. The most common sources of deadly Fine Particulate Pollution are residential wood burning (RWB), restaurant wood burning, coal burning, forest fires and agriculture burning, and diesel and auto exhaust. It is estimated that 72,000 people die annually in the United States from the effects of these fine particles. Once emitted they are impossible to clean up. More than half of the fine particulate is caused by fewer than 10% of the population using the dirtiest fuels for recreation and heating. Their principal activity is public education, including the collection and dissemination of the latest science information regarding health effects, economic impacts, and individual actions to reduce and stop solid fuel combustion. Burning Issues also actively does particulate monitoring and has published the results. burningissues.org
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
How Smoke from Fireplaces, Wood Stoves, BBQs and More Contribute to Outdoor Air Pollution and Affect Our Health
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Mary Rozenberg
Date of Broadcast: April 16, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio—where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world, and live toxic-free.
Today, we’re going to talk about something a little different than we usually talk about because we’re usually talking about things that are going on inside our homes, or in our workplaces, or how to detox toxic chemicals from our body. But today, we’re going to be talking about the outdoor environment, outdoor air pollution to be specific, and a particular kind of air pollutants, to be even more specific.
And there are things that we can do, there are things that we need to be aware of in the outdoor air that are making us sick.
And in fact, it was very timely that I have this guest on today because last week, there was a statement from the World Health Organization, and I talked about this last week actually, when we were talking about indoor air pollution.
But I want to talk about it again today because on March 25th, the World Health Organization released data from 2012 that estimated that 7-million people had died in 2012 as a result of outdoor air pollution exposure.
That’s one person in every eight.
And they have stated that air pollution, outdoor air pollution, is now the world’s single, largest, environmental risk.
So there are things that we can do. Today, my guest is going to talk about how we’re contributing to that air pollution, and what we can do, and the kinds of health effects that happen.
Her name is Mary Rozenberg. She is the co-founder and president of the Burning Issues website. That’s at BurningIssues.org. And what they do is they work with fine particulate pollution in outdoor air. And we’ll be talking about, as I said, how you’re contributing to it, and how it’s affecting your own health and the health of others.
It’s actually worst. I think I’ll find this statistic, but I’m just [reading it] off the top of my head that it’s actually worse to breathe—no, I won’t give it to you until I actually have the right thing.
Anyway, it’s estimated that 72,000 people die annually in the United States from the effects of the specific fine particles. And once they’re emitted, they can’t be cleaned up. So the solution to this, to removing this toxic pollutant from the outdoor air, is for people to be aware of how we’re contributing to it.
The number one thing to do with all toxic exposures is to reduce them at their source—whether you’re removing toxic cleaning products from your home, so you don’t have toxic chemicals, or whether we’re understanding outdoor air pollutants, and reducing them at the source. Source reduction is the number one thing to do for toxic exposures.
So Mary is joining us from California. Hi, Mary.
MARY ROZENBERG: Good morning. Good afternoon.
DEBRA: Well, it’s afternoon here, but it’s morning where you are. And people are listening all over the world, so good day, or it may even be evening where somebody else is listening.
Anyway, Mary, tell us how you personally became interested in this subject.
MARY ROZENBERG: Well, I was a professional [cellist] in New York City. And I began having health problems. I had always had them, but they became more pronounced. I had learned to move around and live around them, and I didn’t know why I had to make choices, but I did. I knew if I didn’t do this or that that I would be ill.
I was diagnosed with lupus in my 30’s and I could no longer continue with my career in New York City as a professional cellist. And my husband is a computer geek, and he wanted to come to Silicon Valley. And so we decided maybe it’s a better climate would help my health.
Once we were out here living in Los Altos, I got sicker. And I ended up with my own pulmonologist and trips to the pulmonologist, into the throat specialist, and so forth, accelerated. And I one day, I looked around and realized that there might be a difference when there was smoke or not.
And that’s how I started observing. I had become a bird watcher. They said it was the same thing because, of course, with smoke, it’s fairly visible most of the time. So what I found out, the journeys that I went on, was fascinating and horrifying.
DEBRA: Yes, I understand that.
MARY ROZENBERG: I’m sure you do.
DEBRA: I had a very similar story in that I was a professional classical pianist. And I had to stop playing because I had paralysis in my hands. I could play for my own enjoyment, but I couldn’t represent myself as able to perform, if in the middle of performing, my hands ceased up, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
And it wasn’t until later that I found out that as I removed the toxic chemicals, that paralysis went away. And it didn’t even occur to me that toxic chemicals just in my very own home would cause paralysis in my hands, but it did.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes.
DEBRA: So I understand the process of discovering that what’s happening to you is an environmental pollutant, it’s causing you problems, and how horrifying that can be.
MARY ROZENBERG: Well, the first thing you do is identify what the problem is. So if you go to our website, BurningIssues.org, we have a chart that has some big brown balls, and it shows various forms of home heating, and whether they’re clean or dirty.
Our political situation in the world has led people to believe that it’s patriotic to switch to the dirtiest form of fuel because supposedly, wood is there, and it doesn’t cost anything to use. And what it’s doing is costing us 30,000 lives a year, and raising our medical bills because when you’re exposed to smoke, it lowers your ability to fight off infection 25% to 40%.
So when the particles reach a certain level, like 10-micrograms per meter-cube, there is already a health risk. And at 30-micrograms per meter-cube, there’s a death rate, and then at 40, it’s even more. It goes up incrementally like that.
So what was happening in Los Altos was that the wood burning, due to their weather condition, the wood burning was kept in due to weather inversion—so cold air at night, and all the smoke that was emitted was emitted within about 100-feet above the houses. So it just goes up and up and up until the toxic levels were quite high.
And no one seems to be aware of this. And as I became aware, I was very fortunate to contact the Stanford Civil Engineering Department, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. And they all recommended that I should meet
Dr. Wayne Ott.
Well, we did, and I started doing some monitoring. I was helped by a professional at the [inaudible 00:09:17] Air Quality Control District. And she told me how to set up the monitoring, what to do. One of our volunteers brought the instrument which was pretty amazing. It was $5000.
And so once I had that instrument, and I started measuring everything, I had people’s attention because you could show it to them.
DEBRA: We need to take a break. We need to take a break, but right after the break, you can tell us what you found.
You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Mary Rozenberg, co-founder and president of Burning Issues website. That’s BurningIssues.org, and this is a very easy to understand and comprehensive website with a lot of information about this issue.
We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Mary Rozenberg, co-founder and president of Burning Issues website, and that’s BurningIssues.org. And we’re talking about outdoor particulate pollution.
Before we go on with Mary’s story I just want to comment on the homepage of her website. She had mentioned earlier about a picture that compared the particulate emissions of different kinds of heating fuels. And the worst, by far, is a wood boiler. I’m not even sure I know what a wood boiler is.
But then after that is an uncertified wood stove, EPA-certified wood stove, and then a pellet stove is much, much less. But then if you look at oil heat, you practically can’t even see the dot, and gas heat. Well, I really can’t see the dot. It’s about as big as a period, whereas a wood boiler is about three-inches across.
So there’s a huge amount of difference in terms of what we’re using to heat our homes, and not only individually, but then if we look down the line, say, if you’re using electric heat, what are they burning to produce that electric heat?
Now, she makes a note right at the beginning of her homepage that says that burning solid fuels yields a particulate pollution—solid particles that are smaller than a red blood cell.
And it’s been found that these little particles are responsible for 2.1-million deaths worldwide per year. The Harvard School of Public Health says, “Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air.”
We know that when particle levels go up, people die.
And she says, “Wood smoke is chemically active in the body 40 times longer than cigarette smoke.”
So this is something that most people aren’t aware of, and yet, it’s affecting so, so many people.
So Mary, you took some measurements.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes, and luckily, I was able to interest Dr. Ott. And by the way, we have good news. Dr. Ott has joined our board of directors.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes, it’s good to have that support as he’s supposed us all along. So Dr. Ott began to gather together equipment to do the monitoring. It was very new. There hadn’t been a lot of fine particulate monitoring, and he did a 12-year-study of his neighborhood, and of course, of everything else.
And with him, I did study for cigarettes, which their work, his work with other scientists, has led to the ban on cigarette exposure. And we did restaurant. And, of course, I was very keen on what was the fuel the restaurant was using.
And the numbers of the pollutants inside wood-burning restaurant are really very high because you add the [inaudible 00:13:55] and the food charring, [inaudible 00:14:02] toxic situation for the cook are there every day.
And, of course, they have high rates of stomach cancer, and probably other things they’re not even aware of. But his work made it possible to get my work published, and it was, in the [inaudible 00:14:35]. And it’s on the website. It’s very hard to show day by day the increment of the pollution. But what we saw was the outdoor [inaudible 00:14:48] burning was that you can start with very clean air from a rainstorm or whatever.
Think of this in terms of a city or a town with burning [inaudible 00:15:03] and, of course, it’s huge. It starts usually in the evening. And that burning from that day stays close to the ground. And this weather condition called an inversion traps it there, close to the ground. And then you have all of your daily activities the next day—the traffic, people going to school and work, and so forth.
So that adds to it. And then in the evening, the people who heat with wood come home, and turn on their 5:30, just as the inversion is really tightening down, and they add more pollution to it.
So what we saw is over a series of days. The air moved every day more and more and more toxic. After four or five days of this, the hospitals were overrun with patients, the doctor’s offices, the cancer specialists. We’ve got 40 people there [inaudible 00:16:08], the phone is ringing, and nobody can breathe.
And still, no one was making these connections that it was indeed wood smoke. So we were able to follow a program that had been started in [inaudible 00:16:24]. And the Bay Area Air Quality Management District began to call Don’t Light Tonight Program where they ask people not to burn.
The first time that happened, it was just incredible. The air was already building up. The news stations got on and encouraged people to please turn off their burning, do whatever they could to stop it. And the pollution that was [inaudible 00:16:55] was gone.
It rather showed the Air District officials, I don’t, had been aware that the wood burning was the largest contributor to the winter air pollution. And now, what we have is year-round pollution with wood burning restaurants. I was discussing with Debra that [inaudible 00:17:25] around the green in New York, in the park, they’re going to have a wood-burning pizza place. And this has been going on [inaudible 00:17:32] to do.
And of course, everybody looks at the dollars and cents, and they make a lot of money with these restaurants. And so we are creating this pond of pollutants that we’re breathing. And the thing to do is not burn. We can’t clean it up.
DEBRA: We’ll talk about it more after the break. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Mary Rozenberg of the Burning Issues website. That’s BurningIssues.org, and we’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Mary Rozenberg, co-founder and president of Burning Issues website. That’s at BurningIssues.org.
The more I look at this website—here’s something actually Mary wrote to me in the e-mail that there’s no real controversy in the scientific community that is saying that wood smoke is safe. And she says no one is saying that wood smoke is safe.
Hundreds of papers are all in agreement about the danger of it.
So this is something where it’s not even controversial. Nobody is saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe this isn’t true.”
Everybody agrees, so it’s something that we all should be doing something about.
I just want to say that the most common sources of particulate pollution are residential wood burning. So those are your fireplaces and your wood stoves, restaurant burning, like Mary was just talking about for cooking, coal burning, forest fires and agricultural burning of the fields, and diesel and auto exhaust. It comes from all of those things.
And so we not only need to be burning less, but how can we reduce how much we’re driving our cars. There might not be a lot that we can do about forest fires, but there’s a big difference between an occasional forest fire and auto exhaust day in and day out, and people burning with their wood stoves night after night after night.
Mary, I was thinking, as you were talking about asking people not to burn—this is so interesting. In nature, one of the things that I learned about nature is that nature will often try to warn you, like a poisonous mushroom—not all poisonous mushrooms have this, but a lot of times a poisonous mushroom will be bright red, or a poisonous berry, or that there are indicators. They’re going to have spines on them, or things like that.
And so nature tries to warn us about things that are bad for us, like making it taste bad, or something, and it tries to give us indicators of pleasure of things that are good for us.
I think that a lot of people have a lot of positive associations with the smell of wood smoke. I hate to say that but we go, “Oh, it’s winter time. That smoke smells good, and it tastes so good.”
But this is one of those times where even though it seems like a pleasure to us, it really is a poison.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes. There are, I believe, people that are addicted to wood smoke. They’re basically part of the smoking addiction. Remember, you heard it here first. Combustion byproducts, it’s not just the nicotine. I think that part of why it’s so hard to give it up.
So what we see many times is these committed burners who absolutely don’t want to hear that they’re toxically—totally destroying the neighborhood air, they are former smokers.
A single fireplace operating for an hour burning 10 pounds of wood, during that time, will create more carcinogenic, [inaudible 00:21:55] than 30 cigarettes.
So that’s a real wham-pow for your brain.
DEBRA: I can understand everything you’re saying about the toxics, and then there’s this other part of me that goes, “But sitting in front of a fireplace and the smell of that wood smoke, and it’s so romantic,” and all that stuff. I think this is a difficult thing to give up. Psychologically, it’s a difficult thing to give up.
MARY ROZENBERG: Part of that is carbon monoxide, and other chemicals. And we have on the website, if you go down to the bottom of that first page, the front page, on the right side, you will see educational material.
DEBRA: I see it.
MARY ROZENBERG: And there are actually flyers which we created that have the chemicals in wood smoke, and what they are, in terms of—
DEBRA: Is that the one called Wood Smoke Brochure?
MARY ROZENBERG: it’s right below that.
DEBRA: References for Wood Smoke Brochure?
MARY ROZENBERG: It’s Chemical—
DEBRA: What’s the title of it?
MARY ROZENBERG: Pardon?
DEBRA: What is the title of it?
MARY ROZENBERG: I’ll find it for you.
DEBRA: Is it over under Scientific Information? Is it the one called Chemical Constituents?
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes.
DEBRA: Okay, that’s under Scientific Information.
MARY ROZENBERG: Good.
DEBRA: I see it now.
MARY ROZENBERG: Thank you for showing me my website. The references you mentioned for the wood smoke brochure, I want to assure people, when you go to our website, you’re reading the science. It’s not influenced by politics, and everything that we say we have a scientific reference for the scientific statement.
And I talked with many of the scientists and, of course, they are experts in one little tiny particulate area, and so it was fascinating as this all unfolded. And I’m delighted to say that Dr. Ott is continuing the monitoring.
So that’s important to remember is that this isn’t an area of science where there’s been much attention paid.
DEBRA: No, and I think that a lot of times that the toxic substances that are really getting attention, it’s people like you who are actually being made ill by it, and they say. “What’s making me ill?” And you start doing the research, and you start seeing that there are all these studies, studies, studies, but they don’t get out into the public, and they don’t get attention.
And so it’s so wonderful that you have this organization. When did you found this? Haven’t you been doing this for 20 or 30 years?
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes.
DEBRA: Yes, and so there just needs to be more and more and more and more awareness, so that when people are considering, “Well, shall I put wood-burning stove in my restaurant?” When I said that, I thought of this little restaurant where I used to live in Inverness, California, that is an old hunting lodge, and they have this big fireplace, and they put a grate in the fireplace, and they cook right in the fireplace. And the whole place just smells like smoke, and people just think it’s so delicious.
And yet, people just aren’t aware of how much pollution that’s creating, even in that little, tiny place where it has an inversion [inaudible 00:26:09] too.
We need to go to break, but we’ll be right back after this. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Mary Rozenberg, and we’re talking about fine particle pollution in outdoor air.
We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest is Mary Rozenberg of Burning Issues website. That’s BurningIssues.org.
There is so much information on this website, and all you need to do is just go down to the bottom part of the page, and you’ll see all these links to different brochures and reports and things. And I’ve been clicking around during the break, and I’m looking at one right now called the Cancer brochure.
Actually, the one that says Wood Burning brochure, that does have a list of the toxic chemicals that are in wood smoke.
But now, I’m looking at the Cancer brochure. And it says, “Wood smoke is 12 times more likely to cause cancer than the same amount of tobacco smoke.”
That’s pretty amazing. Wood smoke is 12 times more likely to cause cancer than the same amount of tobacco smoke.
Then it goes on to say, “You might be surprised to learn that 50% to 70% of outdoor wood smoke fine particle levels seep directly into homes, even non-burning homes.”
MARY ROZENBERG: It’s the next thing I wanted to mention, yes.
DEBRA: Okay, you go ahead and talk about that.
MARY ROZENBERG: No, you’re doing very well.
DEBRA: I’m just reading your brochure. It says, “In smoky neighborhoods, towns have been shown to have the same amount of indoor polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as five cigarettes smoked inside a house at non-wood-burning time of the year.”
[inaudible 00:28:02] many communities. It’s like there are things that we can do at home like remove toxic cleaning products, but we also need to really be taking a look at what’s going on outside in the environment around us because it does affect us. It’s not just that we’ll walk outside our door, and breathe this pollution.
It’s coming in our houses.
MARY ROZENBERG: Because it’s so small. It’s really a gas. What we’re talking about is aerosol. And that was why the discovery of the fine particulate and its role in health was so amazing. It was new.
And now, they are looking at even super fine particles, smaller than just the PM2.5. So 70% of it comes in, and there is no protection other than trying to clean it up. There is only one air cleaner, and I’m not paid for this. I will give it a plug because I feel it’s saved my life.
It’s called IQ Air. And they’re expensive. I have six of them in my home, and I have several in the office. And I depend on these air cleaners to keep me going because I get so ill when I’m exposed to smoke that I’m really totally incapacitated.
I’ve been driving where there was smoke, and the police had pulled me over, thinking I was drunk. And all I was trying to do was get out of the smoky area.
So the IQ Air, which you can find on the web, is Swiss made and invented. And it does the best particle removal because it also removes the aerosol, the gasses. It has three stages.
So it’s important. The first thing, of course, you want to do to protect yourself is [inaudible 00:30:29] filter. Make sure that anything you get is [inaudible 00:30:33] filter.
The second thing is you do not want an electronic filter that just emits ozone or something like that that’s supposedly cleans the air because that can cause health problems. And you actually have to clean it up and clean up the carbon monoxide that’s coming in, clean up the [inaudible 00:30:57] hydrocarbons as they’re coming in.
I’m in a rural area here on the coast now in California, and there are, unfortunately, burns—most of them caused by local people thinking that they’re saving forest fires by having these big piles of wet wood burning.
DEBRA: And wet wood creates more smoke than anything to have it be wet.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes.
DEBRA: But wet or green wood that’s just been chopped you really shouldn’t be burning. Well, we’re talking about not burning wood at all, but if you’re burning wood, the best wood to burn is dry-seasoned wood because that produces the least amount of smoke.
MARY ROZENBERG: However, it’s very toxic.
DEBRA: It is.
MARY ROZENBERG: Dry-seasoned wood—
DEBRA: Burning is toxic. It doesn’t matter what you’re burning—if you’re burning incense, or candles, or whatever, but the combustion byproducts are toxic.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes, and so when they’re telling you to relax and burn a candle, no. Don’t do that. It’s very toxic. You do not want candle smoke or incense smoke in your home.
We actually have reports of renters, apartment dwellers, who have been made ill by a neighbor who is burning incense all the time.
I had a woman contact me. She was doing research on candles. And she was very upset because she had gotten some candles that destroyed some of her furnishings. And she wanted her insurance company to pay for all of the damage from the combustion, which I think they did at that time.
And what she missed entirely was the fact that it doesn’t matter what the candles are. You don’t want to burn them.
The wonderful thing now is we have these nice, little flashing, little mini candles, and they are very available now. And so that’s what we have with my grandchildren at Christmas.
DEBRA: I was thinking about the obvious things like fireplaces, wood stoves and restaurants. And I was thinking here I live in Florida where we have no problem with people burning fireplaces because nobody has one. It’s too hot here for fireplaces.
But what we do have is barbeque. We have barbeque pits, they’re called. They’re not in the ground, but there are barbeques that are just smoking all day long, all day long, all day long, smoking meat. And a lot of times, they’re just right in residential areas, or shopping areas, or whatever because they’re attached to barbeque restaurants.
And you just walk down the street, and there’s smoke. And it’s going up into the air.
And so you really need to really think about and really observe where this smoke might be, and what the sources might be.
If I were to say, “Let’s not have barbeques because they’re contributing to toxic air pollution,” I know here in the south, people would just go up in arms over not having barbeque.
This is what we’re faced with.
MARY ROZENBERG: They think we want to create this mess.
DEBRA: It’s just in [inaudible 00:34:59]. You know what I’m saying.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes. Our monitoring showed that if you used a gas barbeque, a propane, then the pollution was really insignificant until the chicken wings caught on fire—so until something is actually burning.
So if you must have your barbeque, do it over propane. Now, some of the—
DEBRA: To me, I don’t think that even tastes like barbeque.
MARY ROZENBERG: It can’t have the charred—
DEBRA: Not that I’m a big fan of charred meat, but I think it tastes really good, but it’s not something that I need to eat every day. It’s not part of my heritage or something like that. And we need to recognize that burnt meat—those are toxic chemicals in that burned, charred meat also.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes, and they also emit this charred air. When the chicken is disappearing, when it’s charring, it’s going into the air as pollution.
DEBRA: I’m just making a little note here about this. Well, you know what? That went by so fast. We have about a minute left, so are there any final words you want to say?
MARY ROZENBERG: Well, please go to the website. I also recommend an Australian website that we linked to, and that’s done by a very fine scientist.
DEBRA: I see it right here—the Armidale Air Quality Group. It’s right there, about halfway down the page on the left.
MARY ROZENBERG: Yes. Keep in mind that wood smoke is chemically active in the body 40 times longer than tobacco smoke. 70% of it, once it’s emitted, is going to go into every house, including that person down the block who has a heart problem.
Unfortunately, it has been a growing concern, and it’s time that we all start to speak up. Tell our grocery stores we don’t want them barbequing outside. Don’t go to wood-burning pizza places.
So it’s the choices you make, and that you have to begin to educate others. And keep in mind they can be nasty.
DEBRA: Well, I need to say thank you now because we’ve only got about eight seconds left. So thank you so much for being on the show today, and thank you for everything that you’ve done all these years, and you continue to do to educate and bring all this information together.
Everybody, go to BurningIssues.org, and find out more about this. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio.