Campfire smoke carries health risks and aesthetic effects
Campfire smoke can exasperate existing health conditions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carry carcinogens into your lungs and make your stay at a national park campsite miserable.
While many say a night around a campfire is an experience that is integral to your connection to nature, a 2004 US Forest Service study, EPA findings and an informal poll Traveler readers raise more than a few concerns about how healthy it can be to sit in a campground with dozens of campfires twinkling at night.
Smoke may smell good, but it’s not good for you. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles, also known as fine particles or PM2.5. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause eye burns, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis.
Fine particles can worsen asthma symptoms and trigger asthma attacks. Fine particles can also trigger heart attacks, strokes, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk of developing these conditions .– EPA, Wood Smoke and Your Health
But particles are only part of the problem. The EPA notes that wood smoke also contains amounts of benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The smoke can irritate the lungs and make them more susceptible to infections, including Covid-19, the agency says on its website.
“I used to volunteer at Capitol Reef (national park) and the smoke from the log fires was bad almost every night,” Ralph wrote in a comment to a reader survey. Traveler conducted in April. “Say no to wood fires in all national parks.”
“Smoke from campfires is a real problem,” Deb wrote. “Too many people don’t know anything other than themselves that they just don’t care about the people around them. I have been to campgrounds where I cannot sleep because of the smoke. It’s time to get some fresh air and peacefully camp in the national parks. “
“In 2013, the South Coast Air Quality Management District in California measured particles from a beach fire. You can read the report of their studies (here), ”said Barbara Peters. “Note that slide 3 of their results indicates that the particulate emissions rate of one … just one … beach fire is equivalent to that of second-hand smoke from 800 cigarettes, or three average diesel trucks in the 2013 park. We know otherwise wood smoke is a source of hazardous air pollutants and contains many of the same toxic chemicals as tobacco smoke. “
Conversely, Rob Klang wrote, “Camping and campfires go hand in hand like nothing else. It seems that everything was seen as hurting us. But most of the things that are nice are not good for you! The amount of smoke inhaled sitting around a campfire is nothing compared to what a firefighter is breathing. Life is too short to worry about things that “might” hurt you … grilling meat, drinking more than one drink a day, etc. Camping and sitting around a fire is relaxing and enjoyable for anyone who does. There are much more pressing concerns other than the effects of a little smoke inhalation on our lives. We shouldn’t worry about the trivial while enjoying outdoor camping in our beautiful campsites, national park or anywhere! “
And Loui added that, “There is a time and a place for everything. The time and location of campfires are in the fire rings of established campgrounds. If you are so misanthropic and / or fearful of the health effects you may experience, dating other people may not be for you. Maybe scattered camping is for you. Generators, dogs, and loud music are much bigger issues. Campfires (not bonfires) are more than cultural. Campfires are used to teach new campers to build fires. They are used for cooking. They are used to keep campers warm. They bring together campers and strangers. “
Self-described retired ranger / naturalist Eric Burr wrote: “As a … veteran of many ‘campfire talks’ I see the situation very moving. best place to preserve this sacred tradition. He or she can take this opportunity as a learning moment to explain why campfires should now be prohibited to the general public. It is true that the average tourist who visits national parks no longer has any idea of real fires. much more comfortable with propane, but it is also polluting, and many of them are aware of it. Wood smoke is commodity smoke and is a part of nature, but only in the hands of trained technicians. National parks are the perfect place to solve this problem. We need naturalists who know fire. “
In 2004, Mary Ann Davies conducted an “informal study” (attached) for the Forest Service of pollutants generated by campfires, both those that burn strictly wood and those with added waste (eg, candy wrappers, foil, colored cardboard).
Toulene, which can cause “insomnia, nerve damage, inflammation of the skin, and liver and kidney damage,” “is plentiful in the smoke from campfires that only burn wood. Only nickel-cadmium batteries release more toluene in the smoke than wood ”. Davies found it.
The EPA also noted that “particles in wood smoke can reduce visibility (haze). Particles can also create environmental and aesthetic damage in our communities and scenic areas – like national parks. ”
National Park Service staff in Washington, DC, did not respond Traveler investigating whether the agency had studied the health effects of smoke from campfires in park campgrounds, or whether the department’s work on the “21st Century Campground” design addressed the issue .
The EPA and others, however, have described ways to reduce the negative health impacts of campfires:
- Burn only dry wood, that which has been allowed to dry for at least six months;
- Use firewood with a moisture content of less than 20 percent;
- Don’t burn garbage in your campfire;
- Do not burn damp or moldy wood;
- Learn how to build a good campfire to minimize the smoke it gives off.