Pollutionwatch: Please don’t keep the home fires burning

pollutionwatch st helensWith fewer people travelling to work, the end of December normally has low pollution. However, this year frosty weather meant that air pollution lingered and caused problems across the UK – especially in Merseyside, Manchester and Southampton.

East Sussex Fire Service issued public warnings following a spate of chimney fires on Boxing Day, a symptom of the increasing popularity of open fires and wood stoves as secondary or decorative heating. Coal smoke used to dominate UK winters before natural gas became available in the late 1960s, but now woodsmoke is adding to the particle pollution in our urban air.

Between Christmas and New Year traffic pollution declined in the early evening, but airborne particles continued to increase until just before midnight, indicative of smoke from household fires. This was especially apparent across the south in Bristol, Eastbourne, Oxford and Reading and also in Cardiff, Southampton and parts of London. In Eastbourne particle concentrations quadrupled each evening; in Bristol they increased by more than five times.

Domestic wood burning takes place where people live, at the times when everyone else is at home. Even modest wood burning in densely populated areas can lead to harmful pollution exposures comparable to those from traffic. Home wood burning needs to be addressed before more people invest in stoves or make open fires a feature in their living rooms.

In Paris wood burning has become entrenched and recent proposals for a ban met fierce resistance, despite evidence that home wood burning is causing one third of the city’s emissions of airborne particle pollution.

Pollutionwatch: Please don’t keep the home fires burning | Environment | The Guardian.

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