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Lead contamination of firewood?

Post in 'The Wood Shed' started by Jon1270, Jan 26, 2013.

  1. Jon1270

    Jon1270 Minister of Fire

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    I was offered some firewood from an urban residential yard, with the warning that tree had grown in lead-contaminated soil. Google has led me to articles about lead uptake by plants, but they are mostly oriented towards vegetable and fruit gardening, and don't comment on potential hazards of burning wood from lead-contaminated areas. I doubt it's a major problem, but has anyone seen good information on this topic?

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  2. fabsroman

    fabsroman Minister of Fire

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    I have no idea if a tree will take up lead from the soil.

    With that said, the by products from the burn should never be entering the air stream. You might be able to find the lead in the ash and possibly in the chimney, if there actually is lead in the wood, but that would be the only places I can think of where the lead would show up. Maybe while processing it (e.g., sawing it). So, you just need to be extremely careful when you clean the ash and the chimney, which you should be in the first place.

    Another thing to note is that lead isn't quite as harmful to adults as it is to very young kids. Don't even think it will affect teenagers as much as it will newborns to five year olds.
  3. basod

    basod Minister of Fire

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    Any background on the "lead contaminated soil"
    If it were deemed that way from scraped paint(most likely cause) I wouldn't be terribly concerned with the tree taking it up.
    The amount the wood will contain is so miniscule(if any)and the likelyhood of the smoke containing anymore than tailpipe emisions used to before unleaded gas is slim to none.

    Probably wouldn't taste it though
  4. Jon1270

    Jon1270 Minister of Fire

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    In my poking around on this subject I found a PhD dissertation about uptake of heavy metals by trees growing in contaminated mining districts, and contacted the author for his thoughts. He replied that lead in the trees he sampled was concentrated in their trunks, at levels in the range of 5-10 ppm. But he went on to say that he'd found similar levels of lead in trees growing in suburban areas far from the mining districts.

    In conclusion he wrote, "Because lead is not a nutrient nor similar in atomic structure and atomic weight to trace nutrients and is relatively immobile in the environment, it's not prone to being taken up in anomalously large concentrations by trees, even those growing in lead-contaminated soils. So, burning such wood is unlikely to cause any additional health risk compared to burning wood harvested from less developed areas."

    I'm not linking directly to his paper because I don't want to put him on the spot as if his reply to me were somehow 'on the record,' but it does seem that lead contamination of firewood is not likely to be a significant problem.
  5. Ralphie Boy

    Ralphie Boy Minister of Fire

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    If the soil was contaminated that bad there would be, in all likelyhood, no urban residential yard area there but something along the lines of a Super Fund clean-up site. I'd get the salt shaker out for that one.
  6. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    On an industrial biomass boiler project I was working on, I learned that a lot of pallet wood has fairly high lead content. apparently a lot of so called galvanized nails have a lot of lead in them.

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