Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Health effects of residential wood smoke particles: the importance of combustion conditions and physicochemical particle properties

Anette Kocbach Bølling1*, Joakim Pagels2, Karl Espen Yttri3, Lars Barregard4, Gerd Sallsten4, Per E Schwarze1 and Christoffer Boman5

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Environmental Medicine, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway

2 Division of Ergonomics & Aerosol Technology (EAT), Lund University, Lund, Sweden

3 Department of Atmospheric and Climate Research, Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Kjeller, Norway

4 Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

5 Energy Technology and Thermal Process Chemistry, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2009, 6:29  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-6-29

Published: 6 November 2009



Residential wood combustion is now recognized as a major particle source in many developed countries, and the number of studies investigating the negative health effects associated with wood smoke exposure is currently increasing. The combustion appliances in use today provide highly variable combustion conditions resulting in large variations in the physicochemical characteristics of the emitted particles. These differences in physicochemical properties are likely to influence the biological effects induced by the wood smoke particles.


The focus of this review is to discuss the present knowledge on physicochemical properties of wood smoke particles from different combustion conditions in relation to wood smoke-induced health effects. In addition, the human wood smoke exposure in developed countries is explored in order to identify the particle characteristics that are relevant for experimental studies of wood smoke-induced health effects. Finally, recent experimental studies regarding wood smoke exposure are discussed with respect to the applied combustion conditions and particle properties.


Overall, the reviewed literature regarding the physicochemical properties of wood smoke particles provides a relatively clear picture of how these properties vary with the combustion conditions, whereas particle emissions from specific classes of combustion appliances are less well characterised. The major gaps in knowledge concern; (i) characterisation of the atmospheric transformations of wood smoke particles, (ii) characterisation of the physicochemical properties of wood smoke particles in ambient and indoor environments, and (iii) identification of the physicochemical properties that influence the biological effects of wood smoke particles.