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Air quality and our health

The Comox Valley has it all: friendly faces, recreation activities all year round, a brand new hospital and a bustling airport. Newcomers are awed by our lifestyle and energy, but there’s something hiding in plain sight: we are in the top 10 of the worst communities in BC for air quality.

In the winter, wood smoke often settles in the Comox Valley. The smoke contains harmful fine particulates and other toxins that can have serious health impacts. And every winter, there are multiple, multi-day air advisories issued for the Valley; it is rare for Vancouver to have even one in the winter.

Why does it matter?  Just like cigarette smoke, wood smoke contains fine particulates and many harmful toxins that we breathe deep into our lungs.

And just like cigarette smoke, there are hundreds of studies that show how exposure to wood smoke can have serious health impacts. 

"A growing body of research clearly shows that wood smoke pollution increases the risk of serious health outcomes including asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and dementia."

Child health

Compared to adults, children breathe faster and they inhale more pollutants relative to their size.

And like cigarette smoke, wood smoke impacts children’s health.


See for more details.

Wood smoke has been linked to:

  • increased rates of asthma and asthma attacks

  • increased rates of pneumonia and bronchitis

  • decreased lung function

  • greater risk of lung cancer in children than in adults

Wood fires

Short-term exposure to wood smoke from even new wood stoves or fireplaces can have serious health effects including: asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death.

The elderly are more at risk, but it affects healthy adults as well.


No amount of wood smoke is healthy to breathe, just as no amount of tobacco smoke is healthy.

Particulate pollution can affect lung function and development in young children.

An infant’s developing lungs are highly susceptible to damage from environmental pollutants, including those in wood smoke.


Many thanks to Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley for generously sharing this information


Air Quality and Woodstoves: Letter to Comox Council

March 22, 2019

Dear Mayor and Council,

The Comox Valley Nurses for Health & the Environment and CV Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC are pleased with the decision your Council made to implement a Bylaw restricting the addition of new woodstoves to new construction as well as curtailing their installation in home renovations. We congratulate you on attending to the poor air quality in the Comox Valley that affects the health of so many citizens.

As nurses, we are concerned with the significant health impacts that come with the inhalation of fine particulate matter PM2.5 that has been shown by research to be primarily found as a result of wood burning stoves in the Comox Valley. A 19% increase in risk of heart attacks in seniors over the age of 65 during winter months of woodstove heating is well documented in a 2017 Health Canada study (link below) that looked at 3 BC communities including the Comox Valley. In addition, there are deleterious respiratory effects such as asthma attacks and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that are more frequent. The cost of one admission to hospital for any of these conditions is significant and is reflected in the ever-increasing costs of healthcare. It is premature babies, young children and our older populations who are most at-risk from the hazards of wood smoke. We have a duty to protect the health of these vulnerable populations.

We are cognizant of the perceived cost saving of using wood for heating, however such an analysis fails to consider the healthcare costs that ensue by not addressing this issue. It is also indeed difficult to detach from the melancholic era of wood burning fireplaces however, our convenience and enjoyment should not supersede the basic health rights of others. Citizens of the Comox Valley are entitled to breathe clean air and to participate in an active lifestyle without feeling confined to their homes.

You have shown great leadership in helping decrease our local air pollution and taken steps towards meeting our climate change targets. Congratulations to Mayor and Council on the implementation of this Bylaw.


Helen Boyd, CV Nurses for Health & the Environment

Betty Tate, CV Chapter of Nurses & Nurse Practitioners of BC


Source: Biomass Burning as a Source of Ambient Fine Particulate Air Pollution and Acute Myocardial Infarction