Rise in wood-burning stoves in UK, likely creating new ‘pollution hotspots’ in affluent areas | Air pollution

A sharp increase in wood burning in urban areas could lead to harmful pollution for more people and shift the pollution pattern from poorer to richer areas, one of the leading experts has warned. UK on air pollution.

Currently, air pollution monitoring focuses on busy roads, which have been major hotspots for fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5) and other air pollutants, primarily from diesel vehicles.

That means researchers could miss creating new hotspots from wood-burning stoves, warned Gary Fuller, of Imperial College London’s School of Public Health.

“There’s certainly a concern that we’re creating new air pollution hotspots, including in wealthier areas, where people don’t think their environment is polluted,” Fuller told the Guardian.

“First, people need to understand that the wood smoke they smell can be harmful to their health. People perceive wood smoke as harmless because it comes from a natural fuel. People need to understand that the wood smoke that fills their neighborhood is just as harmful as air pollution from traffic or industry,” he said.

He pointed to a recent study in Islington, north London, where walkers with rucksacks were able to track sources of solid fuel pollution.

PM2.5 pollution has been linked to a wide range of health problems, from heart failure and lung problems to dementia and mental illness in children.

Fuller said, “My inbox is already full of people breathing in wood smoke from their neighbors. These are usually people who are caring for someone else and are worried about the smoke invading the bedroom of their asthmatic child or elderly relative.

Fuller sent researchers to certain streets of London with rucksacks to check for air pollution from wood-burning stoves.

Such research is still in its infancy and much more needs to be done, but Fuller said there are already indications of possible hotspots, likely due to wood burning, that static monitors on the roads are missing. and busy intersections.

Wood burners are also likely to affect many more people than conventional road-focused pollution patterns, Fuller added. This is because people tend to use their boilers mainly in the evening, when their neighbors are more likely to be home and therefore exposed to smoke.

This contrasts with traffic pollution patterns, which tend to be worse at peak times of the day and lessen in the evening when people are more likely to be home.

“People burn wood on cold winter nights when their neighbors are home,” Fuller said. “Air pollution can settle over an area, meaning more people may be exposed than those who experience traffic pollution on busy roads.”

A study conducted by Kantar for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed that wood stoves are increasingly being purchased by the middle class, with nearly half being purchased by people in the upper social classes of AB. About four in 10 households with indoor burners owned their homes and less than one in 12 were tenants, compared to households without burners of which about a quarter belonged to AB social classes and more than a third were tenants.

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The implications of these changes in pollution patterns and the potential for much broader pollution exposure have not yet been fully considered in government policy, Fuller added, and more research and monitoring was needed. .

Last week, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey announced tougher standards for new wood-burning stoves, but stopped short of new measures to limit existing stoves, insisting instead that people should be “educated” in their use rather than subject to “finger pointing”.

She said councils could use their existing powers to reduce sources of air pollution under the Environment Act 2021, which include imposing fines in smoke control areas.

But local governments told the Guardian they were too strapped for money to undertake the additional monitoring and enforcement that would be needed for a crackdown, without new central government funds.

A growing proportion of air pollution in urban areas comes from wood-burning stoves, which have grown in popularity in recent years, partly for aesthetic reasons and in some cases in response to the high price of fossil fuels.

Many wood-burning stoves are sold on their so-called green credentials because trees can repel and absorb carbon from the air just as they do. But environmental activists point out that, in fact, large-scale wood burning does not actually benefit the climate, as the carbon from the burning is now released into the atmosphere, but the trees take up to a century to regrow and store. equivalent emissions.

The Committee on Climate Change, the statutory adviser on greenhouse gas emissions, has called for the phasing out of domestic wood-burning stoves.

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