Campaigners and health experts are calling on people who have alternative heating not to use their wood burning stoves this winter amid growing concern about their impact on public health.
The Guardian recently reported that wood burners triple the level of harmful particulates inside the home as well as creating dangerous levels of pollution in the surrounding neighbourhood.
Now experts at the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership are asking people with wood burners only to use them if they have no alternative source of heat.
“We know that burning wood and coal releases fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the most worrying form of air pollution for human health,” said Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy at the charity. “It’s therefore important to consider less polluting fuel options to heat your home or cook with, especially if coal or wood is not your primary fuel source.”
Wood burners have become increasingly popular in recent years and, together with coal fires, are estimated to cause almost 40% of outdoor tiny particle pollution as well as creating toxic air inside the home. Almost 16% of people in the south-east of England use wood fuel, and 18% in Northern Ireland, according to 2016 government data, and about 175,000 wood burners are sold annually.
But a growing body of research reveals air pollution may be damaging every organ in the body, with effects including heart and lung disease, diabetes, dementia, reduced intelligence and increased depression. Children and the unborn may suffer the most.
More than a third of local authorities in the UK have areas where the level of PM2.5 exceeds World Health Organization limits, and MacFadyen urged the government to use the upcoming environment bill to commit to bring the entire country in line with WHO limits by 2030.
She said: “We also need to see politicians doing more to raise awareness on the health dangers of wood and coal burning as part of a national health campaign on toxic air so people can make the best choices for their own health as well as the health of others around them.”
Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical director at the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership, said both indoor and outdoor pollution caused by wood burning stoves caused serious health issues, from breathing problems to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer.
“To protect yourself and others around you, especially children who are particularly vulnerable as their lungs are smaller and still developing, avoid buying a wood-burning stove or using an open fire if you have another source of fuel to cook and heat your home with.”