To address these two key questions, we examine several topics: the chemical and physical nature of woodsmoke; the exposures and epidemiology of smoke from wildland fires and agricultural burning, and related controlled human laboratory exposures to biomass smoke; the epidemiology of outdoor and indoor woodsmoke exposures from residential woodburning in developed countries; and the toxicology of woodsmoke, based on animal exposures and laboratory tests.

The sentiment that woodsmoke, being a natural substance, must be benign to humans is still sometimes heard. It is now well established, however, that wood-burning stoves and fireplaces as well as wildland and agricultural fires emit significant quantities of known health-damaging pollutants, including several carcinogenic compounds. Two of the principal gaseous pollutants in woodsmoke, CO and NOx, add to the atmospheric levels of these regulated gases emitted by other combustion sources. Health impacts of exposures to these gases and some of the other woodsmoke constituents (e.g., benzene) are well characterized in thousands of publications.