Will forest fires harm my health?

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Offline thedoc

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Will forest fires harm my health?
« on: 17/07/2013 06:30:02 »
Ram asked the Naked Scientists:
Hello Naked Scientists! This is Ram from Singapore, yes the Singapore that's gone hazy now with forest fires from Indonesia!

Watching people walking around wearing masks has gotten me thinking if the haze is actually harmful? People tell me the smoke contains harmful chemicals, carbon monoxide, sulphur something. But, I do not feel uncomfortable when I'm outside and breathing. It doesn't annoy me like fumes of burning plastic.

Plus, in India, my home country, any new event is begun with a sacrificial 'yagna' or 'homam' which is basically a ritual of burning wood, sitting around it chanting hymns & pouring offerings into the fire.

I remember such days at home and actually enjoying the lingering fumes at home after such a 'yagna'. Is inhaling fumes of burning wood really harmful or is it simply media hype?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 17/07/2013 06:30:02 by _system »


Offline evan_au

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Re: Will forest fires harm my health?
« Reply #1 on: 17/07/2013 11:01:22 »
It seems that you have developed an emotional attachment to the smell of burning wood - as I guess I reminisce about gathering around a campfire.

But when the wind blows the wrong direction, the thick smoke blows in your direction, hurting your eyes, irritating your throat and making you cough.
  • The smoke contains ash particles and gases which irritate your eyes and lungs.
  • This can trigger an asthma attack in susceptible people
  • The smoke has less oxygen than clear air, which is a risk for people with lung or cardiovascular conditions.
  • The ash particles contain partially-burnt organic compounds, some of which can cause cancer with sufficient exposure
  • In a sense, this is a very dilute form of cigarette smoke (but without the addictive nicotine compounds for which tobacco has been bred)
This will deliver a reduced version of the risks associated with smoking, but clearly the health effects of exposure for a few hours (or days) per year is less than the risks from exposure for several hours per day.
« Last Edit: 17/07/2013 11:08:23 by evan_au »