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Learn how this woman’s determination and persistence shut down her neighbor’s firepit with the help of an Insurance company. They can discover unseen soot on your walls by mopping it with a special sponge.  Read on, and see if this approach could work for you.

 September 10, 2013

My life changed drastically the day my neighbor decided that his right to burn marshmallows over his fire pit superseded my right to breath smoke-free air.

It happened two years ago in the month of May.  My husband was outside doing yard work, and I was in the house starting my spring cleaning.  The windows were wide open to air out the house after being closed tight for the winter.  Out of the blue, rancid smoke filled the house.  My eyes and nose started to burn, itch and run; I was coughing and wheezing like I was having an asthma attack.   I couldn’t imagine where the smoke was coming from, but I quickly discovered it was coming from my neighbor’s backyard.  He bought a new “toy” - a fire pit.  Our back yards butt up to each other, his house is uphill from mine, and there is no fencing or shrubbery between the yards.  This setting was perfect for the smoke to billow down from his fire pit and directly into my house.  I will always remember those feelings of helplessness and despair --- they still linger inside of me today.

My pleas to stop burning fell on deaf ears not only with my neighbor, but also township officials, the police and my local state representative.  I stumbled upon the Wood Activist website and did everything they suggested:

·         I took pictures with the dates stamped on them

·         I kept a detailed journal of the days he burned and for how long

·         I documented every conversation I had with my neighbor and officials

·          I got copies of doctor reports that documented the physical ailments and mental distress the smoke   caused me and my family

·         I called the police every time he burned and got a copy of each police report (Even though the police said they couldn’t officially stop the burning, their reports confirmed my complaints.)

·         I copied every letter I sent to my neighbor asking for some cooperation

     (I even offered to buy him a propane fire pit to use so that he and his   family could continue to “enjoy roasting their marshmallows as a family” without smoking me out – but he refused my offer!)

  • I copied the letter that I had on hold with my lawyer to file for an injunction – which I was only going to send as a last resort because of the great expense.

I told my story to everyone hoping to find a solution.  By chance, I spoke with another neighbor who worked for a smoke and fire restoration company.  He checked my walls with a special sponge and found that I had soot on them.  I couldn’t see it, but it was there!  He suggested I contact my insurance company to report the soot damage.  It was his experience that businesses had to pay for any damage they caused to their neighbors, maybe my fire pit burning neighbor would be held responsible too.

Before my insurance agent came out, I had my oil company do a complete check-up on my furnace.  They gave me a letter stating that my furnace was in good working condition and not releasing any soot into my house.  They also added that they did not see any evidence of soot damage from the heater on my walls. 

My insurance agent found small to moderate amounts of soot on my walls when he came out for the inspection.  The walls closest to the source of the burning had the most soot.  I gave him copies of all my pictures and documentation.  He took pictures of my yard, my neighbor’s yard, and his fire pit. I noticed that my neighbor’s insurance came to inspect too.  His agent even asked my other neighbors if I grilled outside a lot or burned anything! 

I was told by my agent that the total cost to clean the soot from my home would be $6000.  My insurance company issued me a check right away for $5000, less my $1000 deductible.  They informed me they would be going after my neighbor’s insurance company to recoup the money for the damages.  My insurance company also asked if I wanted their lawyer to try and recoup my $1000 deductible, of course I said yes! 

Well, it took two long, stress-filled years, but my insurance company was finally successful in recovering their $5000 and my $1000 deductible.  Luckily for me, my neighbor stopped burning once the insurance companies got involved.  I would like to say the stress is gone and I feel like my life is back to normal now, but it’s not.  I continue to be anxious that he may start again, or some other neighbor may start burning.  I am thankful for whatever peace I have now, but pray that my story may help others so that we may all live smoke free some day soon.

Sheila Stormundo

Bucks County, PA 

Below is an example of why Environment and Human Health, Inc. is asking for regulations that would require "No Burning" on air quality alert days  and days of extreme heat. These regulations should extend into the evening hours - just as the alert and the heat does.
Sent to me from Nancy Alderman, President, Environment and Human Health, Inc.

Friday, July 22, 2011
Dear Mrs. Alderman,
Today was another state of CT air quality alert. The temperature in Niantic registered at103 degrees at 2 PM. The air is unhealthy and ozone levels are unhealthy.
I had my ceiling and oscillating fans on tonight and the windows
open. Approximately 10:45pm I smelled wood smoke. I could barely make it outside into my car to drive down the street to see who was burning a recreational fire since the smell of smoke was so strong on my front porch and driveway.
On this excessively hot day and very hot evening, the air I am breathing is filled with smoke. Sure enough the people one street over were sitting around their firepit in the far corner of their yard and then when they are finished they can go into their smoke free house.
I am so upset that these people would pick a night like tonight to burn a fire with record temperatures. From my drive in the neighborhood only these people had a fire.
I called the fire department and they had me call the police department dispatch to send a cruiser to the address and let them know about their smoke traveling to my house.
Unfortunately, even if they extinguish the fire, the damage is already done. The smoke engulfing all sides of my house will never dissipate all night long with this heat. The symptoms I now have after breathing this smoke combined with the unhealthy air quality and heat of the night are really bad. The particulates get into my house through the cracks and walls, etc. I will suffer this eveningfrom this smoke.
xxxxxxxx, Niantic, CT


A letter from a Salmon Arm, BC victim of residential wood smoke
This letter was sent to both Health & Environment)

Hello Mr. xxxxx, thank you for your email a few days ago. I must say I am somewhat disappointed. I had hoped some assistance might be forth-coming.

I am having great difficulty in expressing to all concerned that dense smoke from the OWB is only a portion of the issues of hazardous emissions. I am sending along two pictures taken by Mr. xxxxx and sent to Dr. xxxxx. The emissions as you see them are emitting 24 hours a day, except when the burner is in start up mode, at which time the smoke is extremely dense; this start up mode can, and does, happen several times a day, all depending on temperature and amount of heat extracted from the unit.

Mr. xxxxx's unit is very well hidden and is not visible from any angle other than inside his driveway and very near his house, consequently viewing and photos of these emissions is near impossible without trespass. A drive-by, except when the unit is in start up will reveal very little in the way of evidence of actual contamination. This is why an air quality monitor is so important.

When you and your colleagues are on your frequent visits to Salmon Arm, at which time you have advised you will drive by, please also observe the units operating at xxxxxxx. ( also very well hidden so only start up emissions will be noticeable, you will recognize this property by the stacks of old wood pallets and used timbers, I suspect fuel for the OWB,). The other unit is located at xxxxxx, this unit I understand is servicing three homes and is presently under renovation to provide heat to a butcher shop located on the same property, thus even more wood smoke and pollution will be added to the environment. This unit is very visible and is a prime example of the menace of these uncontrolled machines.

Thank you again for your time,



Hello xxxxx.....I note you have chosen not to respond to my previous email; perhaps I am mistaken and the email has somehow been misplaced (or forgotten) thus I am sending it to you once more. Hopefully I will hear from you shortly. Could you please advise me the name of your colleague with whom you sat and observed the boiler a few weeks ago, also, I would like to know the vantage point from which you made these observations as I am yet unable to find a clear site line.

Thank you in advance,





A letter from a person in Pierrefonds and Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec

[I have enclosed a video of my neighbour’s wood burning unit. I hope you take note of the black soot surrounding the chimney. Unfortunately the video doesn’t do justice to the smell that goes along with the smoke.

-While filming this footage, my neighbour began to verbally harass me and consequently a police report was filed after the incident].

            In 2009, there were 29 smog alert warnings on the island of Montreal – the most of any year on record. An estimate in 2000 by the Montreal Public Health Department put the number of households with fireplaces or wood stoves on the island at 100,000. The study noted that pollution from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves was worse in six areas, including Pierrefonds and Dollard des Ormeaux. Cigarette smoke has been dealt with and yet wood smoke, which is far more dangerous, remains in our air with little that can be done without the help of our municipalities. There is no excuse to continue to burn wood as one’s primary source of heat when many more environmentally-friendly alternatives are available such as electric, natural gas, oil and geo-thermal heat.

            Based on personal experience, I can tell you that wood smoke creates a smell that stays on your clothes, your hair and on your pet when you want to take them for a walk. The health effects that my family has had to endure include symptoms such as dry throat, coughing, irritation of the eyes, irritation of the nose and headaches.

            Wood smoke can’t be kept out of one’s home. The particulate matter is so tiny that it can manage to get through windows, doors, and ventilation systems. There is plenty of evidence to support that replacing existing windows with newer windows will do nothing to help change the issue of wood smoke entering one’s home. No resident should have to beg to have fresh air to breath inside their home.

            The neighbour in question who is smoking wood has continued to use wood heating as their primary source of heat from the months of September-April. My family has made formal complaints to public security officials and the urban planner of the municipality. The public security officials were unaware of what they could do to help with the complaint and said that they would take down the complaint but couldn’t do anything to help since there is no official by-law concerning wood smoke.

           We have spoken to the urban planner who has discussed the by-laws with us and mentioned the use of no-burn days in the municipality. The urban planner met with our neighbour and discussed the by-laws and the issue of no-burn days with our neighbour. As soon as the urban planner left, the wood burning continued the very next day.  Furthermore, we have made several complaints on smog alert days to the urban planner of the municipality and have seen no direct action taken. The urban planner’s response has been that it would take several visits on his behalf before any official fine or action can be taken for wood burning. 

            Our neighbour will continue to do this to us and others as long as he knows that he can get away with it. As long as he abuses the system without getting caught; he will continue to do so. Another issue is that the individuals who are causing the nuisance don’t want to be told that they are causing a disturbance. They become defensive and belligerent and show it by increasing their smoke load.

Many other individuals who have dealt with the same issue have recommended that we ask the municipality to look into whether the wood burning stove meets regulatory requirements but we have seen several instances where neighbours have managed to get the municipality to do this only to find out that it did meet regulatory standards and that the city couldn’t stop the individual from using their wood burning device.

            Most municipalities are undecided about how to handle wood smoke and keep everyone happy. It’s the burners that continue to abuse their neighbours with smoke. This has spoiled all of their enjoyment of their own home and property and often has made them sick. There are many people currently dealing with wood burners that won’t stop their burning until they are taken to court. This is a lengthy and expensive procedure that further punishes the innocent victim of the wood smoke who has been suffering for some time already with the loss of the enjoyment of their property and the health effects of the smoke that filters into their home.

          Recently, there have been published news articles that might lead one to believe that wood burning is safe. This is simply hype by a manufacturing industry that wants to persuade the public into purchasing newer wood smoking devices and getting them to believe that these newer “Greener” models are much better for the environment and safer than traditional wood smoking devices. Some mayors recommend that EPA 2 wood stoves be used. There is little evidence to suggest that these newer models (which many municipalities are trying to transition to) are any safer than the previous wood smoking devices that are currently being used by homeowners right now.

            Wood burning appliances are not like most other heating systems because the quality of the outcome is so much in the hands of the user. People who don’t care about the impacts of their actions on neighbours and are content to remain ignorant of how to burn wood effectively will make a lot of smoke, regardless of the emissions rating of the appliance they choose. There is no such thing as “good smoke”. You can’t escape the wood smoke that makes its way into your home through ventilation systems and small spaces in between doors and windows. No air cleaner will help to improve the air and make it safer for you to breathe.

           It’s unrealistic to believe that all wood smoking devices will be banned in the near future. Many municipalities are offering switch out programs that range from 5-7 years to either permanently ban wood stoves or replace them with newer EPA2 certified stoves. 5-7 years of wood burning smoke for a program that shows little evidence of improvement over the previous devices is hard to imagine. In addition, there is a by-law that bans outdoor smokers in the summertime in your municipality so why is there no by-law for indoor wood smoking devices? I don’t see how two devices which are similar in nature can have two distinct regulations or lack thereof depending on what time of the year it is when they both present the same dangers to one’s own personal health. There are several individuals who believe that they are saving money by using EPA certified wood burning stoves and who believe that they are burning their wood safely and don’t want to see their personal freedoms taken away by an abusive municipality who they believe are overstepping their boundaries when it comes to legislation. There are many individuals who use their fireplace or wood burning stove sparingly and don’t want to see them banned because of a small minority who abuse their wood burning stove on a consistent basis.

            There must be an effective way to enforce a complaint when it’s called in for neighbours who are being subjected to the smoke from residential wood burning. I believe that a public nuisance by-law regarding wood burning smoke is an effective law to stop individuals from abusing their wood burning stoves. There are by-laws in place that limit noise such as loud music or dogs barking and a limit on wood smoke wouldn’t be any different. This would allow individuals who wish to continue to use their wood burning devices to do so but would prevent individuals from using their wood burning devices as a primary source of heat. A person’s right to burn wood should stop when it interferes with another’s right to breathe clean air on their property.

            My suggestion is that the first complaint be dealt with by a warning, the second complaint by a fine and each successive complaint receives an escalating fine. This would put the onus on the burner to either burn properly (keeping the noxious smoke from invading surrounding neighbours) or find that wood burning is too expensive to continue.

            With strict enforcement of a bylaw such as this, it would be a very inexpensive way for municipalities to spare the air for their residents and show that they understand that residents need to be protected from smoke invasion in their homes and properties.


Residential Wood Smoke Pollution is a burning issue...

Whether it is from a forest fire, agriculture burn, fire pit, backyard burning or residential wood burning appliance, old or new, they all have one thing in common, they all emit toxic emissions. Like cigarette smoke, residential wood smoke contains hundreds of dangerous air pollutants, gases and fine particulates that can cause cancer and other serious health problems such as: blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, lung disease like asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, and bronchitis; irritation of the lungs, throat, sinuses and eyes; headaches; allergenic reactions; increased hospital admissions and even premature death.

The particles in wood smoke are too small to be filtered by the nose and upper respiratory system, so they wind up deep in the lungs and act as vectors for bacteria, toxins and virus. Wood smoke is more than a nuisance, wood smoke is chemically active in the body 40 times longer than cigarette smoke.

Wood smoke contains hundreds of dangerous air pollutants and gases such as:

Particulate Matter 2.5,  Carbon monoxide, Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen oxides, PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) Dioxins, Furans, Benzene, Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic,and many other harmful substances.

Most people do not report wood smoke pollution instead they suffer in silence thinking that it is only a nuisance not realizing that it is a severe health hazard. Residential Wood Smoke Pollution (RWSP) makes people sick and kills many.

The American Environment Protection Agency estimates that the lifetime cancer risk from wood smoke is 12 times greater than that from an equal volume of

second hand cigarette smoke. (The Health Effects of Wood Smoke, Washington

State Department of Ecology); Studies show that people who heat their homes with wood have more respiratory problems than those who don’t.

Smoke particles also invade neighbouring homes. Research shows that children in wood burning neighbourhoods are more likely to have lung and breathing problems. (From Focus on Wood Smoke Pollution - Washington State Department Of Ecology)

Is it not time to take this chronic, severe form of Air Pollution seriously and protect the health of everyone? Why is it that all levels of government have chosen not to inform the public about this deadly form of Air Pollution?

Burning is an option... breathing is not!

Vicki Morell Vancouver BC, Canada - Director of the British Columbia Chapter of the Canadian Clean Air Alliance



"A breath of fresh air - for all generations"






Dear Neighbor,

What would you think if one of your neighbors had a smoking habit of six thousand cigarettes per hour or a habit that releases the equivalent air pollution as 100 automobiles* endlessly circling the neighborhood? What if you had several of these neighbors? Unfortunately, many of us do, and any chance of fresh nighttime air is frivolously absent.
I would like to share with you my desire and possibility that our neighborhood could be a leader and role model in a “Smoke-Free Neighborhood” campaign. It is quite simple actually.
In most metropolitan areas, especially during the winter months, wood smoke is the largest or second-largest contributor to night-time air degradation and pollution. It is time to convert wood burning fireplaces to natural gas.
Our expanding knowledge of health issues, together with social and political pressure has allowed Californians to enjoy many public smoke-free environments in our places of work, restaurants, concert halls and the airlines. It wasn’t long ago when attending public venues resulted in your fresh clothes and shampooed hair smelling like a musty ashtray (to say nothing about the additional burden and insult to your eyes and lungs).
Unfortunately, of all places, it is our very own neighborhood that is deficient and lagging behind in California's smoke-free trends. We could be one of the first in the city, the state or possibly even the country to recognize this straightforward opportunity and healthy life style change.
I know many people may like the smell of smoke; some even like the smell of cigarettes, glue or gasoline. That’s fine, but I feel that our residents’ young and old alike, should not be forced nor be subjected to any of these substances. Wood smoke is a nuisance, a health concern, a contributor of soot, green house gas and a superfluous insult to our already derogated quality of air.
Won't you join me leading the way applying this relatively simple, painless and future-forward contribution to our quality of life and health?

*(100 automobiles is a line of cars almost 1 mile long)

I live beside a home that is using a wood burning furnace to heat their home here in Vinton, Iowa.  The smoke causes my eyes to burn almost constantly and I have sneezing spells and when I go outside the smell just hits me in the chest like a fist.   The city council here will do nothing and I have contacted the local DNR and there is no regulations on wood burning furnaces here in Iowa.   I have some pictures taken on Feb 5th from inside our back door as the smoke was so bad did not want to go outside.   You can see how close the wood burner is to our back door.  They not only have the wood burner furnace outside but have a wood burning stove in their porch which is directly next to my bedroom and one in the garage and when it is cold they have all three going.

It started last year when our neighbor replaced their woodstove by themselves we also have an 8yr old and 20month old, same story the city cannot help the region of health cannot help we are stuck and I don’t think we can live like this for 3 to 4 yrs like some of the stories I have read. If there is any help please let us know. Brampton, Ontario see pictures attached we have lots more and video. Two of the pictures were on a beautiful day +3 and my wife and daughter could not even go outside to play. It’s hard to believe in this “GREEN AGE” nothing can be done..

Hello, just read your article. We live in a neighbourhood with a beach where 6 years ago the regional district put in fire rings. our house is engulfed with smoke on warm summer evenings. they burn driftwood and construction waste and its just fine with the local government, my taxes even go to help buy firewood. my lungs feel like I've smoked a pkg of cigarettes each day. hard to believe this is taking place in Canada. sounds like some country in the developing world. I am very interested on your court case as our neighbourhood could be in the same situation. I sympathize with you and add my encouragement. education is the key.

Wood Smoke Trespass

by Julie Mellum, Realtor

A Violation of Property Rights

If a neighbour experimented with a new invention known to spew  arsenic,  formaldehyde,
and other dangerous toxicants into your yard, surely your local air regulators would be able to shut
down the operation immediately. Wouldn’t they? If these noxious fumes entered your yard, home,
and lungs uninvited, it would be a clear violation of your property rights as a taxpayer. What if your
neighborhood began using them by the droves? Imagine the consequences of these compounded
toxic fumes, if allowed to continue unabated, magnifying the chances of asthma attacks, heart attacks,
reproductive birth defects, and sudden infant death syndrome. Wood burning fireplaces, outdoor
fire pits and their ilk, along with the proliferation of wood burning restaurants, are the culprits. Their
smoke and carbon soot are polluting private property and entire neighborhoods to an alarming degree
in urban areas across the nation.

More Than a Nuisance

Wood smoke violates nuisance ordinances and air quality standards as it fans out in capricious and
unpredictable plumes affecting property owners in entire urban areas just like a massive invasion of
tobacco smoke, only more concentrated. Wood smoke is a mobile source of fine particulate pollution
that spews many of the same cancer-causing toxicants into the air that are in cigarette smoke. Even
low level exposures take their toll—especially on children and others with asthma The American Lung
Association cites that wood smoke is a trigger for asthma attacks and asthma can be life threatening.

Wood Smoke Devalues Property

We can tell our house guests that smoking isn’t allowed in our homes. We should be able to declare
our own property a smoke-free zone outdoors! A person’s right to burn wood should stop when it
interferes with another’s right to breathe clean air on their property. Wood smoke from a neighbor
or neighboring business could devalue your property because frequent smoke is a “material fact”
that could negatively influence a buyer’s interest in your property.

Wood Smoke’s Fine Particulates Contribute to Climate Change

New NASA satellite studies demonstrate that wood smoke’s fine particulates and “black carbon soot”
are major contributors to global warming - even more than greenhouse gases.

If this isn’t a wake-up call to quell polluting for fun, what else would convince us to stop burning?

Don’t Put Up With Wood Smoke Trespass!

 I found your newsletter online while researching how to deal with my wood smoke problem.

A neighbour of mine in Toronto burns a wood stove (his only means of heat!) 24/7.  His wood is wet, and the
amount of smoke in our neighbourhood is unreal.  He loads up the stove several times per day and chokes off the
air-intake to make the heat last for hours.  As a result, everything just smoulders and produces an incredible amount of smoke.

My house is about 200 feet away, and I sometimes get smoke inside even with all the doors and windows closed.  I can tell the air is
polluted inside my home now that heating season has started.

This is ridiculous, especially in Toronto.  Everyone else here is on natural gas.

Please help - I need to find out what recourse I have in dealing with this.  What steps should I take to try and fix this situation?

I'm scared of being exposed to this health hazard, but no one else on my block wants any confrontation with this guy.

Any advice you could offer would be most appreciated, as this is no way to live.


Wood Smoke a Health Hazard to be Aware of!

Posted in the  Lethbridge Herald

Written by Cathy Baiton   

Monday, 08 February 2010


The adverse effects of cigarette smoke are well-known, but another source of second-hand smoke has become noticeable in parts of our city, as more chimneys are releasing wood smoke into the air.
In Canada and elsewhere, a movement away from residential wood burning is beginning to emerge, in light of ongoing research about its harmful effects. Wood smoke actually contains many toxins similar to those found in cigarette smoke, and components of both types of smoke are carcinogenic.
The extremely fine particles in wood smoke can penetrate deep into the lungs, and remain active in the body up to 40 times longer than tobacco smoke. Even short exposures can trigger or aggravate allergy, asthma or other health issues, and research shows that children in wood-burning neighbourhoods have more lung and breathing problems.
Because the particulate matter is so fine, up to 70 per cent of outdoor levels of smoke can enter homes nearby, as U.S. studies have shown. Residential wood-burning emissions are also a main cause of fine particle pollution in many cities — in some areas, even more than emissions from industry or vehicles. More information on the air quality and health effects of residential wood burning can be found at the excellent Burning Issues website, at http://burningissues.org/.
A number of places, such as Montreal and Hampstead, Que., have brought in public awareness efforts, regulations and bans to help local air quality and protect residents from exposure to wood smoke. Wood burning can be an option in the country where homes are widely spaced and the smoke can dissipate, but it’s very different on residential streets where neighbours often bear the brunt of smoke or fumes produced by chimneys or fire pits nearby.
We’re fortunate to live in a region where cleaner-burning fuels are available, which the American Lung Association recommends using in place of wood whenever possible. As the Lung Association of Quebec says in an article about residential wood heating on its website: “It is time to care about the air that we pollute because it is the air that we breathe.”
As a parent, I also hope people will consider the potential costs for the environment and health before burning wood in residential areas, to help the air stay healthier for everyone, in all seasons.

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