Woodsmoke health effects: a review

Inhal Toxicol. 2007 Jan;19(1):67-106. doi: 10.1080/08958370600985875.


The sentiment that woodsmoke, being a natural substance, must be benign to humans is still sometimes heard. It is now well established, however, that wood-burning stoves and fireplaces as well as wildland and agricultural fires emit significant quantities of known health-damaging pollutants, including several carcinogenic compounds. Two of the principal gaseous pollutants in woodsmoke, CO and NOx, add to the atmospheric levels of these regulated gases emitted by other combustion sources. Health impacts of exposures to these gases and some of the other woodsmoke constituents (e.g., benzene) are well characterized in thousands of publications. As these gases are indistinguishable no matter where they come from, there is no urgent need to examine their particular health implications in woodsmoke. With this as the backdrop, this review approaches the issue of why woodsmoke may be a special case requiring separate health evaluation through two questions. The first question we address is whether woodsmoke should be regulated and/or managed separately, even though some of its separate constituents are already regulated in many jurisdictions. The second question we address is whether woodsmoke particles pose different levels of risk than other ambient particles of similar size. To address these two key questions, we examine several topics: the chemical and physical nature of woodsmoke; the exposures and epidemiology of smoke from wildland fires and agricultural burning, and related controlled human laboratory exposures to biomass smoke; the epidemiology of outdoor and indoor woodsmoke exposures from residential woodburning in developed countries; and the toxicology of woodsmoke, based on animal exposures and laboratory tests. In addition, a short summary of the exposures and health effects of biomass smoke in developing countries is provided as an additional line of evidence. In the concluding section, we return to the two key issues above to summarize (1) what is currently known about the health effects of inhaled woodsmoke at exposure levels experienced in developed countries, and (2) whether there exists sufficient reason to believe that woodsmoke particles are sufficiently different to warrant separate treatment from other regulated particles. In addition, we provide recommendations for additional woodsmoke research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / chemistry
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor*
  • Animals
  • Biomass
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fires
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure*
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / chemistry
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Toxicity Tests
  • Wood*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Particulate Matter
  • Smoke