Fireplaces and stoves are bigger polluters than traffic

Increases in wood burning have offset gains in other areas, including cleaning up exhaust fumes

Fireplaces and stoves are now the largest single source of primary particle pollution in the UK, greater than traffic and industry. About 40% of the UK’s primary particle pollution comes from just 7% of homes that burn solid fuel. Will the new ban on sales of coal and wet wood in England help the problem or risk making it worse?

In 1950s Britain, replacing coal with so-called smokeless fuel (made from powered coal and industrial waste coke) was the main solution to our smogs. London’s particle pollution decreased by 66% in just 10 years. A similar ban was implemented in Dublin in 1990 and particle pollution decreased by 70% in one year.

These are dramatic improvements but after the ban the cities were still significantly polluted by solid fuel. In London the gradual rollout of gas central heating played an important role in continuing to improve air pollution through the 1970s.

But UK solid-fuel users mainly burn wood. Government estimates suggest increases in wood burning since 2005 have offset gains from other sectors, including cleaning up traffic exhaust.

Banning the sale of wet wood has not been tried before. According to the UK government, burning wet wood produces about four times as much particle pollution as dry wood. However, wet wood accounts for about only 20% of the total being burnt, limiting the potential impact of the ban.

The wood that people buy in garages or garden centres is not labelled as dry or wet. The ban will mean that sellers will now only sell dry wood – but the fear is that this could encourage people to believe they can burn more solid fuels at home, even if it is smokeless fuels and dry woods. Writing in Country Living, Emma-Louise Pritchard concludes that the new rules “mean that those of us with fires or wood-burning stoves in our homes can continue to light them with added peace of mind”.

The sale of fuels made from coffee grounds and olive waste may further encourage home burning. In Dublin, despite the coal ban, the marketing of wood and peat as green biofuels has contributed to solid-fuel heating remaining the biggest source of particle pollution in the city.

Several local councils, including Camden in north London, are clearer in their messaging. They have asked people not to heat their homes with any solid fuels.

Fireplaces and stoves are bigger polluters than traffic | Air pollution | The Guardian

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