Breathe Easier!

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Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The quality of the air we breathe is often beyond our control. It’s a given that prevailing winds pick up pollutants from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest and carry them over this state we’re in.

But we can take action to improve the air quality in our homes and beyond. Small changes in our daily routines can lead to a cleaner, healthier environment … and even save us money!

As part of its air quality awareness campaign, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently put together a list of tips that can help us all breathe easier. Here are some of the best:

In the house: Many common household products – including paints, varnishes, stains, hairspray, deodorants, shaving gels, cleaners, air fresheners, cooking sprays and glue – contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pollutants that contribute to ground level smog.

Read labels and look for products without VOCs. A few simple changes can help, like switching from spray to stick deodorants, and from cooking sprays to cooking oils. And, on hot, muggy days with high ozone levels, skip painting and cleaning with VOC products.

No idling: Don’t let your car idle. If you’re stopped in traffic or waiting in a parking lot, turn your car off!

There’s a good reason: Idling vehicles don’t thoroughly burn up the gasoline, causing emissions. It’s a myth that allowing the car to idle for a few minutes is better for the engine than turning it off and on, and an idling car gets zero miles per gallon! Keep your car’s engine well-maintained for cleaner emissions, and combine your automobile trips whenever possible.

A laundry list: Cleaning your clothes can pollute the air, due to the energy used for dryers and chemicals used in dry cleaning.

One of the best things you can do is put up an old-fashioned clothesline. You’ll be amazed how fast laundry dries on sunny days, and there’s absolutely no energy cost. Plus, nothing beats the fresh scent of laundry dried outdoors!

Avoid dry cleaning. Perchloroethylene, also known as perc, is a cancer-causing chemical commonly used in dry cleaning. If you must get an item dry cleaned, find a “green” dry cleaner that uses safer solvents.

Follow best burning practices: On cool nights, it’s fun to have an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, or a crackling beach bonfire. But not all wood is equal when burned, and wood smoke contains fine particulate matter that’s been linked to health issues, including asthma.

Use only dry, well-seasoned hardwood. Look for logs with cracks on the ends and which sound hollow when knocked together. Don’t burn plywood, particle board, or coated, painted or pressure-treated wood – they all release toxic chemicals when burned. And start the fire with kindling or newspaper, not gasoline or kerosene.

For more tips and links, go to If you want to check your local air quality, go to the Department of Environmental Protection’s air monitoring website at

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at .

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5 comments for “Breathe Easier!

  1. Katherine Troidl
    June 10, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Dry, well-seasoned hardwood still makes wood smoke, and wood smoke is an irritant that inflames the respiratory airways. There is no “good” level of smoke inhalation. Why not recommend that people use gas-burning fire pits?

    Fire pits in residential areas are a bad idea. The wind is always from somewhere, so someone is always going to be downwind. Unless of course it’s a still night, in which case the smoke will not dissipate and just hangs like a blanket.

  2. barking_dogs
    June 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    It’s quite clear the author of this article has never lived next door to a wood burner. She has no idea what a living hell it is living next to a wood smoke bully.
    There is no safe way to burn wood. Wood burning should be banned completely. Telling burners to burn responsible doesn’t do one bit of good. Burners will burn anything they can find, They all have the attitude that burning is a God given right, unfortunately most township officials agree, at least the officials in Jackson Twp., NJ. What wrong with being outside and breathing clean, why do anyone have to burn wood.

  3. BrieO
    June 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    You can only “Breathe Easy” when You have clean air to BREATHE; everything else that passes into your body system brings with it some health risks!
    I am speaking mainly of chemicals. And this makes many homes and almost every neighbourhood a death trap; especially in North America. Because most of the population just love all these overpowering scented products which are present in household-cleaners, laundry detergents and more. These chemically produced fragrants are designed to cling to your laundry for a long time; but that is not all; these molecules don’t care what they cling to, and they will get into your body-system the moment the container is opened; and there, they do what they are designed to do. They cling! It is as simple as that! But the consequences are most of the time a nightmare of ill health and people have to live with this and suffer until they are relieved by death.

    Clean air seems to be a rare commodity in this century where, because of economy and self-expressions, humankind has exploited and polluted the planet we live on and this is still in practice; and I wonder how many of us are truly concerned as to in what state we are handing this world over to the next generation. How much more pollution and ill health are we expecting our children and grandchildren to be content with?

    If we, as intelligent adults, do not clean-up the air in our neighbourhoods, right now, many of us and our loved ones will, needlessly, suffer ill health. And this includes CANCER.

    To improve the economy, manufacturers are flooding the market with multitudes of products that could be harmful to humans if breathed! However, we the consumers, have the last word on this.

    ***As Ms. Byers states: But we can take action to improve the air quality in our homes and beyond! Small changes in our daily routines can lead to a cleaner, healthier environment … and even save us money!***

    Further; we do not have to purchase chemically scented cleaners and sprays etc. scent does not clean; and there alternative cleaning products available.

    We do not need to fall for advertisements that promise coziness around a fire-pits or wood-burning-fireplaces. For these, gas fuelled devices are available, which are a lot safer for us and our loved ones; and our neighbours; and our Environment.
    Because woodsmoke contains chemicals which are labeled carcinogenic by scientists! And the particulate matters, mentioned by Ms. Byers, are usually referred to as PM 2.5 – and these are declared toxic by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
    We all need to learn from each other and prevent disasters wherever we can – this moral obligation is ours. It makes as Humans!

  4. FranNJ
    June 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Why on earth are you guys encouraging people to burn wood? You obviously have not suffered the way my family has. We suffered in the winter although my house is well insulated it didn’t matter. My next door neighbor burned all kinds of treated wood and garbage and smoke and the toxic smell entered my home. We are now in a legal battle. The neighbor across the street just got a delivery of wood and it took them a month (after the elements affected the wood piled there) to cut it and stack it..last winter they too smoked us out and the smell alone was awful. Two of my dogs died of lung cancer and my husband and I were sick..on and off..we are non smokers and usually healthy but this wood smoke/smell makes us physically sick to the point our vitamin D levels were very low, despite taking supplements. In the summer we cannot enjoy a cool breeze because these same people decide they want to burn a pit outside. So now year round I can’t breath. I will need a ventilator by the time I am 50. I am making changes for our state…this wood burning HAS TO STOP. How can anyone possibly think that burning wood is natural? or healthy? or green? How stupid.

  5. nofirepitts
    June 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Yegads! Please stop encouraging these numbskulls to burn wood on the warm summer nights! Everybody and their freaking mother has a firepit or chiminea in the densely populated urban areas now. How about the poor SOBs who just want to open the window for a bit of a breeze on these stifling nights? No matter how “clean, dry or seasoned” your firewood is, it’s WOOD! It emits benzene and fine particulates and more! Try thinking of the poor little old lady with her oxygen machine a few houses away. What about the increasing number of kids suffering with asthma in the neighborhood. STOP ENCOURAGING WOOD SMOKE POLLUTION IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS!

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