So there I was driving in to work and listening to the radio when I heard an interview Dr. Mike Roizen (nationally syndicated medical talk show host). Among today's topics was a study of children who grew up in homes where coal was burned as the primary heating or cooking source. These children, on average, were both shorter in stature than their control group peers and suffered higher rates of learning disabilities. This was, of course, in addition to long known respiratory problems. The reasons cited were believed to the particulate emissions and the toxins conveyed in them as well as the organic volatile compounds.
Intrigued, I looked into this a bit. Not exhaustively, just a bit. The study, I believe, was European and focused on childhood development in homes where solid fuels were used for either cooking or heating. Both wood and coal were examined. The results mentioned were most related to coal. The relational results for wood were less clear as the the majority of the wood users did not rely on wood as the bulk of their heating needs. Rather, wood users tended to use wood to supplement other fuel sources. Coal users, on the other hand, tended to use coal as the primary heat source.
My immediate conclusion was that, even in Europe, burning wood is a hassle as evidenced by the fact that most users of wood relied on an alternate primary source.
Beyond that, I am definitely awaiting an opportunity to more fully examine the study. What kind of coal is being burned? Where in the home is it being used? In what kind of equipment is it being used? What is the overall living situation? While I have not had an opportunity to review the statistical power and methods of the study, it's definitely something which will be revisited.