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Defra reports on potential scrapping of Clean Air Act

A report commissioned by Defra suggests that scrapping legislation controlling smoke from chimneys and furnaces could impact on PM10 emissions unless new legislation is introduced

Removing the Clean Air Act (CAA) 1993 could lead to an increase in particulate matter emissions unless new legislation is introduced, according to a government funded report.

Written by air quality consultants Ricardo-AEA on behalf of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the report considers the impact of removing or amending the CAA as part of a drive to cut government red tape.

Defra is proposing to scrap or amend the Clean Air Act 1993, which limits smoke emissions from chimneys

Defra is proposing to scrap or amend the Clean Air Act 1993, which limits smoke emissions from chimneys

The CAA was introduced to address air pollution from smog caused by widespread burning of coal for residential heating and by industry. It targets smoke emissions from residential and non-residential chimneys and furnaces.

The report estimates that removing CAA requirements for approval of chimney heights for small boilers could potentially lead to high local air quality concentrations in excess of objectives and EU limit values for nitrogen oxides.

However, the report said there would be little change in nitrogen dioxide concentrations and no additional exceedences of air quality limits for the pollutant resulting from removal of the CAA.

Defra is reviewing and consulting on removing or amending the main provisions of the CAA as part of the government’s Red Tape Challenge to cut legislation that is unnecessary or not working (see airqualitynews.com story).

As a result the report, ‘Assessment of the effectiveness of measures under the Clean Air Act 1993’, was commissioned by Defra last year. However, it was only published on the Defra website on Wednesday (March 20).

Provisions of the CAA have been reviewed to identify potential changes, which include revocation of measures or changes to provide more focus on air quality and impacts on public health.

The report states that the removal of Smoke Control Area provisions in the CAA could have ‘significant’ impacts on national emissions of benzo(a)pyrene, and both particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5.

However, by also applying national emissions controls on solid domestic fuel appliances to match controls in the Smoke Control Area provisions, the report suggests there is in fact ‘potential for some benefits to national emissions’ of these pollutants.

Considering a ‘PM reduction scenario’ whereby the CAA is scrapped but smoke control criteria is instead applied on a national basis, the report states: ‘There are no exceedences predicted for PM10, PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide under the changes to the CAA for the PM emission reduction scenario and there are fewer projected exceedences for BaP.’

Clean Air Act

The CAA, which has its origins in Acts passed in 1956 and 1968, covers England, Wales and Scotland and was introduced to address air pollution from smog caused by widespread burning of coal for residential hearing and by industry.

It gives powers to local authorities to control domestic and industrial smoke to improve local air quality and meet EU air quality standards for sulphur dioxide and particulate matter. It enables councils to create ‘smoke control areas’ and order the use of cleaner fuels in these areas.

Measures contained in the current Clean Air Act include:

  • the prohibition of emissions of smoke within smoke control areas, unless using an exempted appliance or an authorised fuel.
  • the prohibition of emissions of dark smoke from any chimney, or from industrial or trade premises, subject to certain exemptions.
  • the prohibition of cable burning except under an environmental permit.
  • requirement of approval for many commercial furnaces to ensure they don’t emit too much smoke, grit and dust.
  • requirement of approval for many furnace chimneys to ensure they are high enough to disperse any residual emissions.

The report is available on the Defra website. Its authors were John Abbott, Christopher Conolly, Sally Cooke, Neil Passant, Robert Stewart, Anne Wagner of Ricardo-AEA.

A timetable for cutting air quality red tape was revealed by Defra in September 2012, which includes plans for a consultation in May 2013 followed by regulatory changes in late 2013 and early 2014 (see airqualitynews.com story).

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Dr Dorothy L Robinson
8 years ago

The current Clean Air Act provisions limit PM2.5 emissions from a chimney to about 7 grams per hour – the US EPA Phase 2 standards for wood burners. However, real-life emissions can be a lot higher – the average was 11.1 grams per hour (see reference to Fisher et al. below).
A Euro-5 diesel vehicle is required to emit 0.005 grams per km, or 0.1 kg per year, for 20,000 km per year.
The above figures show that even in smokeless control areas, a new wood stove will emit more PM2.5 in 10 hours than a new diesel car does in a year. Given the above, it would be pretty stupid to relax current controls and allow even more polluting stoves.
PM2.5 are now considered the most health-hazardous air pollutant, responsible for about 10 to 20 times as many premature deaths as either ozone or NO2. Based on estimated health costs of PM2.5 emissions, the average new stove installed in an urban area creates health costs of thousands of pounds per year.
There is no safe levels of PM2.5 pollution, so comments about ‘exceedences’ are meaningless. Even when all so-call standards are many, many thousands of people will still die prematurely from PM2.5 pollution. Our aim should therefore be to find the best ways to protect people’s heath with the least impact on our lifestyles or the economy.
Controls should address the least beneficial sources of pollution. Which do people value more – being able to drive 20,000 km in a new car, or using a new wood stove for 10 hours?
Surely our health is far more important than reducing ‘red tape’. First set a new standard for stoves – say 0.1 grams per hour. This could be achieved with filtration and natural gas boosting to help light the fire and to cut in (if necessary with fan-forced airflow) to ensure the temperature does not fall below that required for efficient burning.
Then introduce a program to require these stoves nationwide and replacement program to remove the old stinkers over a 10 year period.
This effectively makes the smokeless zone controls redundant for normal heating systems, but useful to avoid problems with open fireplaces that still might be used occasionally.
Relevant info: http://www.atmospolres.com/articles/Volume2/issue3/abstract4.htm and Fisher, L., J. Houck, P. Tiegs, and J. McGaughey. 2000. Long-term performance of EPA-certified Phase 2 woodstoves, Klamath Falls and Portland, Oregon: 1998/1999. Prepared for the USEPA, NRMRL-RTP-195 (R3/27/00).

Josephine Cock, Dr (PhD CPsychol AFBPsS)
Josephine Cock, Dr (PhD CPsychol AFBPsS)
8 years ago

Please can you tell me in simple English what this means for the person in the street? Will there be yet more smoke for us to inhale from neighbours chimneys – where domestic wood & pellet burners are on the increase? Will there be smoke restrictions in our villages & towns or not? Will people be told (as part of the daily TV and radio weather reports) when fine particle pollution in their region reaches the level where it become a health hazard? I don’t understand, is the Clean Air Act being phsed out or not? If so, what replaces it? How will the air we breathe be protected? There is always a fuss in the news about water contamination (quite correct too) but what about the air? I hope that DEFRA is not simply giving up – because it finds it cannot comply with the EU regulations/stanbdards? And they are a bit of a joke anyway – given the amount of air pollution in so many countries on the continent. Admittedly, very often it is the wind that passes one country’s air pollution to another (as is happening at present with wind from the NE) but what is the EU doing about this? It is so easy to say, well China’s making so much fine particle pollution etc. etc. that we can forget the rest ….. and it’s so much better where we are …… buyt for how long?? And isn’t that very irresponsible? Just as cigarette smoking is being phased out, we need to clean up the air we breathe – by making better and stronger regulations – not weakening the ones we have. What is your opinioin please, and have I understood your article or not? Thank you. JJC