Health consequences of using biomass for energy

April 11, 2022 – Because reducing carbon emissions is an important part of combatting climate change, Congress recently declared that biomass—which includes wood, farm waste, and organic materials in trash—is a carbon-neutral source of energy. However, burning biomass has significant public health and environmental justice consequences, according to a recent opinion piece co-authored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Jonathan Buonocore.

“Like other combustion fuels, air pollution from burning biomass can cause asthma exacerbations, hospitalizations for heart attack and respiratory disease, birth defects, neurodegenerative diseases and death, among many other health impacts,” wrote Buonocore, a research scientist at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), in the March 27, 2022 article in The Hill. Buonocore’s research has found that altogether, burning biomass in buildings, industry, and power plants leads to more deaths than conventional coal-fired power plants.

Buonocore suggested a better approach: “Committing to alternatives, or better yet, making major energy decisions using a systems-level approach with both climate and public health in mind, can set us on a pathway toward an energy system that is healthier.”

Read the article in The Hill: Biomass is not health neutral