"Black carbon" from wood burning chokes Chilean towns.

AuthorZhou, Jane

On winter nights. Carmen Ahumada is unable to see across the street to her neighbor's house. Visibility in Temuco, Chile, can be as little as five meters, she said.

Temuco, with a population of 300,000, has the fourth most-polluted air in the country, according to local media. The burning of firewood for heating, cooking, and other uses is the main source of soot particulates, known as "black carbon," that enter the air at more than four times the World Health Organization's recommended limit.

On many counts, Chile has taken the lead in Latin America in tackling urban air pollution. But little has been done to help smaller towns address particulate pollution from wood burning, which supplies 20 percent of the country's energy, according to local residents and officials.


Burning does not completely break down the wood, resulting in the release of particulate matter and carbon monoxide into the environment. The soot contains heavy metals, benzene, formaldehyde, and carcinogenic dioxins. Documented health effects, especially among the elderly and young children, include asthma, respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, and cataracts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its 2007...

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