Wintertime Air Quality Concerns
Concord, NH - The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to remind people about the potential for unhealthy air quality during the winter months. We often think that poor air quality is more common in the summertime than during the winter months. While it is true that hot summer weather can bring poor air quality to New Hampshire, unhealthy air quality can be a problem in the winter, too, due to high concentrations of small particle pollution. Particle pollution can also reduce visibility and obscure our view of scenic vistas.
“Small particles can cause adverse health effects, especially in people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children,” noted DES Commissioner Tom Burack. “We encourage people to be aware of outdoor air quality issues this winter and to take precautions to protect their health if unhealthy air pollution levels are forecast.”
Increased concentrations of small particles are a concern in the winter when cold, stagnant air and temperature inversions limit air movement. During a temperature inversion, pollutants released into the air from vehicles, heating devices, and industries become trapped and concentrated near the ground. A potentially large, wintertime pollution source is residential wood burning, especially with older wood stoves. With increased use of wood burning on cold, clear, calm nights, limited air movement can prevent smoke from rising and dispersing, leading to poor air quality. Communities located in valleys or other low-lying areas are more strongly affected.
In New Hampshire, wood burning devices can offer clean and economical heat if modern, EPA-certified devices are used and operated properly. Wood is a renewable resource and a valuable fuel source because it is domestically produced and reduces greenhouse gas emissions when harvested in a sustainable manner. There are many steps that residents can take to protect their health and reduce the harmful effects of smoke from wood burning devices. For example, burning only dry, well-seasoned clean wood will reduce pollution from a wood stove and increase its efficiency.
If DES forecasts air quality to be unhealthy this winter, people should take precautions to protect their health by reducing prolonged or heavy exertion. Air quality information, including daily forecasts, is available on the DES website at www.airquality.nh.gov. For other information on air quality issues, call DES at (603) 271-1370.
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