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Red Deer Advocate - Letters to the Editor
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More ways to reduce cancer risk

The Red Deer Advocate on Friday, June 6, printed an article, Cancer risk in Alberta can be reduced by up to 50 per cent, outlining a number of ways to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Remarkably, the article omits to mention the importance of reducing the level of smoke in urban air. The smoke from residential wood and coal burning appliances is so highly carcinogenic that it was the first cause of lung cancer to be identified, centuries before it was realized that the much milder cigarette smoke could cause lung cancer.

Unfortunately, this is an unpopular reality and organizations that claim to care about cancer are not prepared to warn the public of the dangers. Even the schools refuse to include the topic in the curriculum.

After thee centuries of concerns, pre-dating “germs” and cigarette smoking as causes of disease, there is no shortage of information. Simply Googling “wood smoke and cancer” will provide an outline of current concerns.

Each exposure to wood smoke is a concern, particularly for young children or during pregnancy. Each year, there is more wood burning and exposure can be from a neighbour’s fireplace, stove, outdoor wood furnace, pellet stove, chimenia, fire pit, outdoor pizza oven, a visit to a city park or a campground. Multiple small exposures can add up to a significant cancer threat.

There is no known way of reducing emissions from a wood-burning fireplace but the EPA/CSA approved stoves were claimed to have significantly lower carcinogenic emissions. In reality, the emission-reduction features are only marginally effective and now seven American states are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for their failure to protect the public.

There can be a price to pay in terms of various cancers for having a wood-burning appliance in a home as one of the attractions of having a wood-burning fireplace is that it gives a home the traditional aroma of stale smoke and powerful carcinogens.

Incredibly, the Air Quality Health Index is a poor indicator of the health impact of air pollution as it does not identify carcinogens.

We have to borrow from the British, who do monitor for cancer threats and have found elevated levels of carcinogenic smoke along urban truck routes. This is troubling as British diesel trucks have filters on the exhausts so we can only guess at the cancer risk to Albertans who live or work along truck routes as diesel trucks here are not required to have filters.

Hopefully, the various organizations that are concerned about cancer will support measures to reduce the cancer threat posed by wood and to a lesser extent, by diesel smoke.

Alan Smith

Alberta director, Canadian Clean Air Alliance

Red Deer

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