Washington, Feb 6 : More people are turning to wood to warm their homes, particularly to ward off winter's chill.
However, a new study has raised concerns about the potential health effects of the smoke released from blazing fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.
It found that the invisible particles inhaled into the lungs from wood smoke could trigger health-related disasters in unexpected ways.
Steffen Loft and colleagues cite the abundant scientific evidence linking inhalation of fine particles of air pollution - so-called `particulate matter' - from motor vehicle exhaust, coal-fired electric power plants, and certain other sources with heart disease, asthma, bronchitis and other health problems.
However, relatively little information of that kind exists about the effects of wood smoke particulate matter (WSPM), even though millions of people around the world use wood for home heating and cooking and routinely inhale WSPM.
The scientists analysed and compared particulate matter in air from a village in Denmark where most residents used wood stoves to a neighbouring rural area with few wood stoves, as well as to pure WSPM collected from a wood stove.
Airborne particles in the village and pure WSPM tended to be of the most potentially hazardous size - small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs.
WSPM contained higher levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which include `probable' human carcinogens.
When tested on cultures of human cells, WSPM also caused more damage to the genetic material DNA; more inflammation; and had greater activity in turning on genes in ways linked to disease.
The study is published in the American Chemical Society''''s journal Chemical Research in Toxicology. (ANI)