Study highlights ‘shocking contribution’ of domestic wood and coal fires to air pollution, which causes 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK
People burning wet wood on inefficient stoves are poisoning themselves and their neighbours, according to a new report from a leading think tank.
The IPPR study highlights the “shocking contribution” domestic wood and coal fires make to the UK’s air pollution crisis, which causes 40,000 early deaths a year and devastating health problems for hundreds of thousands of others.
“For almost 2 million homes in the UK, solid fuels, particularly wood, are a part of everyday life,” said Josh Emden, research fellow at the IPPR and co-author of the report. “For many this is the enjoyment of a warm log fire, for others it is the only way to heat their homes – but the reality is that, without stringently tested, hyper-efficient stoves and properly dried wood, people are unknowingly poisoning themselves, their children and their neighbours.”
Although many of the health problems caused by air pollution come from traffic fumes, the study points out that burning wood, coal or other solid fuels in the home is the largest single contributor to production of the most dangerous pollutant, known as particulate matter: tiny particles that penetrate deep into the body.
According to government figures, wood, coal and solid fuel fires in the home generate 40% of total PM2.5 – the smallest and most dangerous particulate. This is more than double the PM2.5 emissions from industrial combustion (16%) and more than three times as much as from road transport (12%).
The IPPR report calls on the government to ban the sale of wet wood and smoky coal in England no later than 2020 and commit to reduce all domestic PM2.5 emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050.
Emden added that the government had to adopt tougher air pollution standards post-Brexit if it was to live up to its pledge to leave the environment in a better state than [it] found it.
“Communication of the problem in the government’s Clean Air Strategy is a start,” he said, “but this must be backed up by urgent policy action including stove standards that are stricter than EU regulations.”
Last year the Guardian revealed that that every person in London is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for PM2.5.
The scale of the UK’s air pollution crisis has been underlined by a flurry of scientific studies over recent months showing the long-term damage air pollution is doing to people’s health, including connecting it with asthma, dementia, damage to unborn babies, and an increased risk of heart disease.
Last month the world’s biggest children’s charity, Unicef, told the Guardian it had refocused its UK operation to tackle air pollution because of the scale of the “health crisis” facing young people in the country.
The UK government has been widely criticised by clean air campaigners and environmental groups over what they say has been its failure to tackle the crisis. It has been defeated three times in court over its plans and is now one of six countries taken to European Court of Justice over them.