Can using my fireplace give me lung cancer?

YES, OR AT LEAST increase your risk of that disease and others. A fire m the hearth may be warm, cheery, and practically synonymous with cozy winter cuddling, but its smoke is toxic. In fact, based on animal studies, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that long-term exposure to wood smoke may confer 12 times the cancer risk of an equal amount of cigarette smoke. Fortunately, it's possible to enjoy a fire and still be safe.

The problem is that smoke from wood fires contains tiny particles that pass easily through filters in the nose and upper respiratory system, then nestle deep in the lungs There they can cause serious irritation, as well as releasing into the blood chemicals known to raise the risk of cancer.

Along with the particles, gases waft out of the fireplace and into your lungs. Among these, formaldehyde is a carcinogen. Carbon monoxide crowds out oxygen in blood cells; low levels can make you feel weak, and high levels can be fatal. Nitrogen oxides are thought to hasten hardening of the arteries. Other gases can irritate the lungs. In the short term, same people may suffer all winter from what feels like the flu but is actually a reaction to indoor air pollution.

Scientists aren't sure how much exposure is necessary to cause serious damage. But if you like a glowing hearth, do take some precautions. Start with a clean chimney and Rue. Then--because cold air in the chimney acts like a cork in a bottle, pushing smoke down into your home--hold some lit kindling or a burning roll of paper up into the chimney to warm the air. Crack a window or open a door into another room for ventilation. Use only dry seasoned hardwoods that burn efficiently, such as elm, maple, and oak. Finally, don't toss plastic, charcoal, colored paper, or painted or preservative-treated wood into the fire. They all release dangerous pollutants.

PHOTO (COLOR): Fireplace

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By Sally Lehrman

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