YOUR HEALTH IS AT STAKE!
Why cook with a wood stove? Put simply, wood is very good for our health and environment. Wood smoke has nothing to do with pollution but has a lot to do with oxygen production and the oxygen cycle. Likewise gas has nothing to do with being clean, but has a lot to do with pollution, ill health and our eventual demise.
When we cook with a gas stove, toxic gases like carbon monoxide (CO.), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and all other irritating compounds remain in the kitchen and are therefore inhaled. As a result researchers have discovered that those who cook with gas tend to suffer from irritability, nausea, fatigue, depression, dizziness, headaches, fainting, confusion, asthma, respiratory illness, drowsiness and so on. In fact, it is so bad that some researchers compare some of its effects to asbestos and cigarette smoke. A wood stove however, having a flue, takes the wood emissions outside and in the process constantly replenishes the kitchen with fresh, clean air, through the windows, doors or any other gaps, without people even realising it. Thus, those who cook with wood feel and fair better health wise. Wood emissions are part of the natural cycle and are food for the plants; plants need them in order to emit oxygen, thus a balancing or an equalising takes place, hence scientists class wood as pollution free.
How clean is wood? Extremely clean, Indeed, there is not a gram of pollution when the sun creates the wood (stored solar energy), nor is there long term or permanent pollution when burnt, as plants reabsorb the smoke. Wood smoke is an integral park of the oxygen cycle, just like the rain cycle, grass cycle and so on, it is part of living. We are deceiving and deluding ourselves by even suggesting that electric or gas stoves come anywhere near the quality of wood. The Australian Government brochure, “The Energy Guide” noted: “Open fires or wood burning stoves can be a good option although these... contribute to low level air-pollution... However, these emissions can be canceled our - reduced to zero - if timber is replaced after it’s cut down by other fast growing trees. Can we see beyond the smoke? Can we see the complete picture rather than only the smoke?
By using wood we simply recycle what nature has provided. Strictly speaking our environment will not function correctly without wood fires, as they are part of the atmospheric biodiversity and help keep the gaseous equilibrium. In fact, wood fires when meaningful are crucial to the well being of the environment and often occur spontaneously by lightening. In essence, no clouds - no rain, no wood smoke - less oxygen, as wood emissions are a precursor and a vital prerequisite to oxygen - by photosynthesis.
Yes, trees are a source of clean air for man and plants whether used or standing. Frankly, we can’t afford not to use wood the alternative is catastrophic! The issue is not whether gas is better than oil or coal but whether gas is: 1) renewable, 2) pollution neutral, safe for our health, 4) safe for our environment, 5)sustainable and 6) as clean as wood. Gas meets none of the above criteria By switching from electric to gas we are exchanging one pollution for another. We bring an outside gas pollution inside our kitchen - with adverse consequences to our health. With all other fuels the pollution is outside but with gas the pollution remains inside - in the kitchen.
For example, oil is cleaner than coal but this does not mean oil is clean. Similarly, gas is better than electricity but this does not make gas a clean fuel. By promoting gas we simply promote more pollution and ill health. Our approach should always consider the total environmental and health effects that is from exploration and production right to when it is used in our kitchens. That is where the wood stove excels! Think of it! Wood is located above ground; fossil fuels are below ground, as a result they create billions of tons of pollution when excavated, refined and used.
How polluting is gas? Disgustingly polluting. For example, take Western Australia’s North West Shelf gas project? “The Environmental Protection Authority’s report on the project found it would emit 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year - increasing WA’s total emissions by 13 per cent and Australia’s total by 1.4 per cent. The EPA also found the potential environmental impact of the project was considerable.” "The West Australian Newspapers 21/09/2002" This may well be on the conservative side.
Right now in Western Australia, there are five or six gas projects in various stages of planing. Multiply the above levels of pollution by 5 times (depending on size) and the pollution would be about 65% greater. If the same happens in other states, let alone in other countries, the pollution would be catastrophically ruinous. They are both called plants, one a gas processing “plant” (misnomer), the other a firewood plant (Tree), one depressing the other refreshing, one “death dealing the other life giving” - no comparison - poles apart. Our approach should always consider the total environmental and health effects.
Our approach and selection criteria for any energy should always consider the total or overall environmental degradation and health effects. That is “birth to death analysis,” from exploration and production, right to when it is used in our kitchens. That is where the wood stove excels.
With gas there are 6 major stages of pollution:
- Exploration and extraction by offshore and on shore rigs. All gigantic monstrous structures, nothing small, nothing sustainable (inaugural or introductory pollution only).
- During construction of plant and pipelines.
- Installation of pipelines, every street and front yard has to be excavated.
- During the production of gas (e.g. purging, venting, flaring etc.).
- The lost gas (leaks) in the distribution system which is around 4%.
- When being used in our kitchens or homes.
How bad is it for 4% of the gas to leak into the environment? A CSIRO study by Dr Tom Beer concluded that if gas leaks reached 4% then the full fuel-cycle pollution “from CNG and LNG would exceed those of diesel”. The Western Australian Transport Department, in selecting the new breed of diesel buses, essentially said the same thing - diesel is cleaner than gas. Moreover, there is a difference between burned gas and lost “leaked” gas (methane CH4), as methane is a lot more noxious and generally is 21 times (2,100%) more destructive than CO2. The issue is not whether we harvest the trees but whether we grow and use them sustainably, reasonably and wisely.
How bad is gas for our health? The book “Your Health and the Indoor Environment” is scathing on gas: “natural” gas looms as one of the greatest contributions to indoor pollution and... human illness... “natural gas is highly unnatural as far as the human body is concerned - a substance with which the body has no physiological method of coping.... ”To get the grip on just how serious the overall situation is several studies have been conducted and the results are appalling... some in a constant state of illness... The most likely resulting symptoms are... headaches, fatigue, nausea and dizziness; and such mental concerns as depression, irritability and confusion... The content of nitrogen dioxide in natural gas, over time, is capable of damaging lung tissue. Several British studies have revealed a higher incidence of both respiratory symptoms and disease... in homes with gas ranges... Other studies... also revealed a higher frequency of coughs and colds.”
The “British Medical Journal” in a preliminary study of gas and respiratory diseases in children by Dr RJW Melia and her fellow scientists, found that gas: “gives rise to a range of pollutants on combustion... An association between greater severity of illness and the use of gas for cooking was also found… The main constituents in the emissions from a gas cooker are N2, O2, CO2… with small amounts of CH4, C2H4, and other hydrocarbons, CO, NO, NO2, and various aldehydes… SO2 is also given off during the burning of gas and is potentially harmful to health.” 16/07/1977
The gas magazine “Advantages” (Autumn 04) admitted: “Gas emissions from a pilot light can no longer be a trigger for peoples asthma as the pilot system is not exposed in the house.” If a mere pilot light can trigger asthma what about the much bigger gas stove flames in the kitchen?
Similarly, a study sponsored by the SA Asthma Foundation of 14,124 homes found: “Incidence of respiratory illness in small children can be as high in homes with natural gas stoves as those with cigarette smoke... The increased likelihood of such illness as asthma, frequent colds and hay fever… the study presents the natural gas industry, which has been informed… with its biggest challenge yet… It also has implications for public health policy makers.” The study goes on “Homes with wood-burning heaters even appear beneficial.” (Bold ours) “The Australian” 29/11/1994
The Australian Greenhouse Office brochure “Global Warming Cool It!” p. 20 came with the following pollution per unit of heat:
- “Wood produces 0.00 kg (Bold ours)
- Natural gas produces 0.31 kg
- LPG 0.34 kg
- Heating Oil 0.39 kg
The UK Medical Journal “The Lancet” in reporting a study by Dr D Jarvis and her medical team noted, women who cook with gas tend to suffer from “wheeze… shortness of breath… and asthma attacks…” Is an exhaust fan the answer? “The Lancet” continues: “no protective effect was observed… we have not observed any reduction in risk of symptoms with the regular use of extractor fans.” (Bold ours) 17/02/1996.
“Carbon Monoxide A Silent Killer” “After asbestos, carbon monoxide is the most common single cause of poisoning at work and in the home” reports London Hazards Centre Trust… Carbon monoxide is a gas that is formed when incomplete combustion occurs… in heating appliances that burn coal or other fossil fuels, especially gas. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. So how does it kill?… Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs as the body becomes starved of oxygen. Exposure to low emissions of carbon monoxide over a period of time can result in permanent brain damage. Symptoms include headache, drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and fainting – and in severe cases, weak pulse, coma and respiratory failure… insufficient oxygen reaching the brain – causes death. What can be done to avert the dangers of carbon monoxide?… If a gas flame burns yellow rather than blue, consider it a warning of irregular burning and possible carbon monoxide emissions…” (Italics / Bold ours) “Awake” 08/12/2000.
Although the decision to use a wood stove is personal, one thing we can say with certainty, wood has a proven environmental, ecological and health track record; fossil fuels do not as our current high levels of pollution and ill health show.