The use of wood burning stoves in UK homes is a “concern” for people’s health and there is “a lack of public awareness and understanding” on the dangers of air pollution, according to an expert.
Tim Dexter, Clean Air Policy Manager at Asthma + Lung UK, told NationalWorld the charity is calling on the government to provide the public with more education about the dangers that domestic wood burning can cause to people’s health.
Wood burning stoves also have a detrimental impact on the environment. According to a government report they are the biggest source of PM2.5 pollution - fine particles which can reach the lungs and cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, and shortness of breath. Road transport, industry and burning wood and other biomass to produce electricity all produce fewer PM2.5 emissions.
The UK did not meet the 30% emission reduction commitment of PM.25 emissions required between 2020 to 2029.
Now the government is clamping down on the use of wood burning stoves, reducing the amount of smoke that new stoves can emit in controlled areas from 5g of smoke per hour to 3g and implementing a £300 fine for households in England who use log burners in the control areas.
The government has also pledged to “drive a shift away from older, more polluting appliances” to cleaner stoves, certified under the “Ecodesign” accreditation system.
About 200,000 stoves are installed every year, and the recent surge in gas prices accelerated demand. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) said sales of wood burners rose 66% in the third quarter of 2022.
But how bad are wood burning stoves for the environment and your health? We spoke to experts to understand more.
Are wood burning stoves bad for the environment?
Government approved “eco” wood burners are said to produce 450 times more pollution than gas heating, according to a report by the chief medical officer for England.
Dr Gary Fuller, Senior Lecturer in Air Quality Measurement at Imperial College London, told NationalWorld that in the UK “more particle pollution is emitted by home wood burning than we get from the exhausts of all the vehicles on our roads.”
He added: “Wood burning is also a large source of carbon dioxide. For each unit of heat in your home burning wood produces more climate heating carbon dioxide than fossil fuels.
“It can take many decades for this to be absorbed by new tree growth.”
Erica Malkin, Communications Manager at the Stove Industry Alliance, told NationalWorld the Ecodesign wood burning stoves are “very low emission, low carbon and a cost effective way to heat your home using sustainable and renewable fuel.”
She said: “A modern wood burning stove emits up to 90% less particulate matter than an open fire and up to 80% less than many older stove models. There are numerous sources of air pollution of which domestic burning is one.
“When reporting on emissions relating to domestic combustion it is important to distinguish modern, Ecodesign compliant wood burning stoves from open fires and older stove models. The SIA estimates that just 1.3% of total UK PM2.5 emissions can be attributed to modern, Ecodesign compliant wood burning stoves.”
Are wood burning stoves bad for your health?
Wood burning in towns and cities has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including heart and lung disease, dementia and mental illness in children. Air pollution is estimated to be a cause for between 26,000 to 38,000 early deaths a year in England, according to a government report by the chief medical officer published in December 2022.
Tim Dexter told NationalWorld: “The impact of wood burners on air pollution levels is a concern, because burning wood is a source of air pollution both inside and outside homes, particularly PM2.5, which is the most dangerous pollutant to human health. This fine particulate matter also comes from industry, power generation and road transport.
“Currently, in the UK 97% of people are breathing in levels of PM2.5 that are higher than World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, which can be very dangerous to people’s health and lead to premature death.”
He said the charity is calling on the government to provide more education on the “dangers that domestic wood burning can cause to people’s health and information on cleaner and affordable alternatives”
He added: “If possible, we are encouraging people to not use wood burners, especially if you have a lung condition and to consider using cleaner fuel options.
“The government must set up PM2.5 monitoring stations in every community, so local authorities can accurately analyse the levels of PM2.5 across different neighbourhoods, identify hotspots and implement more targeted interventions, including air pollution alerts when air pollution levels are high.”
Dr Fuller also advised people who use wood burning stoves to “act responsibly for the sake of their own health and their neighbours.”
He said: “Over 95% of people that burn wood in the UK have another source of heating. I get many emails from people who care for young children or elderly relatives at home who are dealing with breathing problems when their bedrooms are filled with smoke from a neighbour.
“I would urge people to act responsibly for the sake of their own health and their neighbours.”