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Campaign launched to raise awareness of woodburning dangers

A new campaign is spreading the word on how wood burners can be harmful to health, as many people are still unaware of the dangers.  

Launched by non-profits Global Action Plan, which organises the annual Clean Air Day, and Impact on Urban Health, a new information page has been published to raise awareness of the negative environmental impacts of wood burners.  

Wood burners are known to emit PM2.5 which can cause illnesses such as asthma, coronary heart disease and lung cancer and even homes with ‘eco’ burners are three times more polluted than those without.  

Still, woodburning stoves remain popular, with a 60% rise in sales of firewood reported in September, suggesting that people may be unaware of the health impacts.  

While some use burners are used as a primary source of heat in this climate of high energy bills, this is only a small minority of 8%, with most people doing so for ‘aesthetics’ or ‘nostalgia’ reasons.  

Rachel Pidgeon, Portfolio Manager at Impact on Urban Health, said: ‘Air pollution has devastating effects on people’s health and disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, including children. Wood burning is a major source of fine particulate matter, which is one of the most harmful pollutants, yet people’s awareness of this impact is low. This is a significant barrier to reducing it. 

‘Educating people about the link between wood burning, pollution and health without judgement is an essential step towards behaviour change and ultimately regulation as well as support to transition to other energy sources for those who need it.’  

As well as a detailed information page on Global Action Plan’s Clean Air Hub, the two charities collaborated with Dog Cat & Mouse and JAA Media on a digital strategy which targets Londoners who already own or are likely to buy a wood burner.  

The campaign combines hard-hitting facts about the harms of woodburning with engaging light humour, seen in posts on the neighbourhood forum Nextdoor, to try to spread the message.  

Tessa Bartholomew-Good, Campaign Lead at Global Action Plan, added: ‘We’re not on a mission to shame people, particularly those who burn as their main source of heat (which is a very small percentage), but to encourage those who burn for aesthetic purposes to think twice. People need to be made aware of the vast health impacts behind creating a “cosy atmosphere” with wood burners in their homes. 

‘Working with Impact on Urban Health, our campaign provides the robust evidence base behind the dangerous health and environmental harms of wood burning. It is so important that people have all the facts, so they can make informed choices, especially because so many are completely in the dark. When I first joined Global Action Plan, I myself was one of the majority of people who are unaware of wood burning harms to people and planet.’  

Photo by Gábor Adonyi

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Steve
Steve
2 months ago

I’m sick of breathing in smoke from wood burners where I live can’t just have my window open in my own home just for some fresh air people are just so arrogant the don’t care about the impacts on others or the environment

Jes Sig Andersen
Jes Sig Andersen
7 months ago

During and after the energy crisis it became apparent the wood stoves was the affordable way to secure a good indoor temperature. Not everyone can afford a heat pump, and far from all dwellings are suitable for heat pump heating.
You jump to conclusions and assume that people are unaware of any healt issues from wood burning. I’m not sure it’s that simple.
There are two other viable explanations; 1) People are fet up with fear mongering or the documentation of hazards is just not reliable and justifiable enough. Its all very hypothetical and speculative..
2) Order of priorities. Who would risk pneumonia from living in a cold and damp house. Affordable heating just comes first.

Darlene Deutch
Darlene Deutch
1 year ago

The only benefit of the wood stove exchange program and wood stove sales is to the wood stove industry. Whether it be the HPBA or Wood Stove Alliance they only see the bottom line of profits, not how their product affects people’s health. We live in a High Smoke Sensitivity valley which is in constant wood smoke from over 100 stoves in homes and garages. I know that people secretly burn trash in their stoves, never get them inspected or cleaned and don’t always use seasoned wood. These appliances are outdated, dirty and unsafe to use in any community. Time to ban wood stoves everywhere.

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Anne-Marie Grealy
Anne-Marie Grealy
1 year ago

Well, just try living in a town close to next door to a multi fuel burner, using an external flue, going all day and probably at night too. Looks appalling. It means cannot open windows, cannot go in garden without a mask and it’s supposed to be one of the new eco burners. really horrible. And the measured particulates are scary numbers. Yes in the right place, I do appreciate that wood burners are nice.

chris
chris
1 year ago

Right place? Nice? Never …. not when you know how pollutiion they emit and how harmful they can be.Perhaps only for those who truly have no othere way to keep warm. Otherwise there is no excuse.Except the cost of other kinds of fuel some will say. I sympathise with what you are saying Anne-Marie. It is always the neighboiurs who suffer because the family inside wityh their stove or open fire either can’t smell the smoke or they like it. Often they are or were heavy cigarette smokers which doesn’t help. As our environment minister has just said, the public needs to be educated more about the dangers of wood burning, but what a shame she says there’s no need to ban them in our cities. A missed opportunity.

Arabella Daniel
Arabella Daniel
1 year ago

Thank you to Air Quality News and Global Action Plan for raising awareness of this leading and most hazardous pollution source: wood/solid fuel heating. Missing from the GAP web page information on climate impacts of wood burning and CO2 is the more significant issue of Short Lived Climate Pollutants released from wood burning: black carbon, methane, NOx, SOx etc – these have multiple times more impact on warming than CO2. Also, the advice at the end of the web page should end at “do not burn” and “do not purchase a wood burner” – any advice on how to “burn better” will be taken as permission to keep burning and polluting. We need government support to assist homes to switch away from wood burners to clean efficient heat pumps to ensure all homes and neighbourhoods become safe places to live.

chris
chris
1 year ago

Thank you, Arabella, I agree 100%. The public also needs to know about the harmful effects of inhaling ultra fine particles and poly-aromatic hyrdo-carbons from the wood that is burned. Even if someone thinks they are not at risk because their PM2.5 meter (if they have one) shows only a low level, it may not include these other pollutants. And don’t forget why stoves and fireplaces have chimneys in the first place – they are intended to take the emissions away from your house, which (mostly) they d – or should. But then your pollution lands on your neighbours instead. It doesn’t magically disappear once it goes up the chimney and the air outside doesn’t immediately clean up the smoke.You’re right, Arabella, the article needed to mention heat pumps and neighbourhoods at the end, and say that out government needs to be more forthcoming. Thank you..

PC1
PC1
1 year ago

Ive noticed on tv holiday and property programmes the ‘quaint’ wood burning stove is always highlighted. Until such a mind-set changes, terrible air pollution will continue.

Stove Industry Alliance
Stove Industry Alliance
1 year ago

What the campaign by Global Action plan fails to point out is the fundamental differences between the types of wood burning appliances currently in use and the opportunity to dramatically reduce PM emissions by using a modern stove with the correct fuel.

Instead, the opening paragraph of its online information
page linked in your article describes all forms of wood burning, including
outdoor burning, under the umbrella term “wood burners”.

A modern wood burning stove that complies with the emissions and efficiency limits set out within the Ecodesign Regulation (such as a clearSkies certified model), emits up to 90% less PM than an open fire and up to 80% less than many much older stoves.

To recommend, as Global Action Plan does, that consumers “do not purchase or replace a wood burning stove or wood burner…” is madness. Replacing an open fire with a modern stove is an effective and pro-active step that consumers can take to immediately and significantly reduce emissions.

Burning solid fuel for heating indoors is heavily regulated in terms of the appliance, the fuel that is used and the installation of the stove and its flueing. Outdoor burning on bonfires, firepits and the like is not, and it is therefore highly misleading to describe modern indoor solid fuel burning appliances in the same terms.

The reasons people choose to keep their homes and families warm by burning solid fuel are many and varied, and it is again highly misleading to suggest that “most people” do it for nostalgic or aesthetic reasons when that is simply not the case. As the CMO, Prof Chris Whitty, pointed out in his 2022 Annual Report: “Reasons for burning wood and other solid fuels vary, and include aesthetic as well as practical, ecological or economic reasons.” 

Burning responsibly sourced wood from a well-managed supply, that has been correctly seasoned in a modern, Ecodesign stove and where the user is aware of the importance of professional installation and ongoing appliance maintenance, including regular chimney sweeping, is a very low emission, sustainable and cost-effective way to heat our homes. It is also significantly less carbon intensive than gas or electric heating, meaning users are helping to reduce their carbon footprint while also reducing their reliance on our already stretched energy grid.

chris
chris
1 year ago

What you don’t say is that many do NOT burn “responsibly sourced wood”. And I think you are incorrect in saying that wood burning is “less carbon intensive than gas or electric heating”. Burnt wood emits plenty of CO2. Full stop. You can only say it is low-carbon or even carbon-neutral if you personally are planting new trees to replace those you burn of if you know others are doing that. Most people will have no idea if the logs they burn come from sustainable/renewable sources and many are burning whatever “wet” wood scraps they can pick up in parks and even from skips. Also, it takes many years for new trees to grow and start absorbing enough CO2 again. So, your argument won’t do, thank you. You are absolutely right about good burning practices, i agree – very important. But just because the SIA acknowledges this, it doesn’t mean all the wood burners across the country will comply. Many still don’t know what the term “wet wood” means. And just because someone has a new low-emissions eco stove doesn’t mean they will use it properly. Where you say “up to 90% less PM than an open fire and up to 80% less than many much older stoves” the important words are “up to” – that still means the new stove could be emitting only marginally less pollutioin than an old stove! There is no guarantee it will be “clean” burning at all. It is no surprise that you find fault with Global Action Plan advising consumers not to purchase a new wood burning stove or wood burner (“madness”, you said”) – very many of us here would disagree. WE think it is mad and selfish to pollute the whole street with wood smoke. But the SIA is all about promoting the saleof wood stoves, isn’t it? So no surprises there? Wood buring creates fine particulate air pollution which is unhealthy and the public should be discouraged from this mediaeval practice. The new stoves may be better, yes, but better still is not to burn wood, or coal, unless essential.

chris
chris
1 year ago

Very interesting and encouraging, thank you. The fact that Tessa B-G herself was unaware of the risks says a lot. I hope this project really does raise awareness. For those who have central heating, there isn’t even a genuine excuse – just the ‘cosy & cololurful’ factor. But for those who are hard up, especially now, or if a wood stove is all they have, what are we/they to do? A 60% rise in fire wood sales last autumn (and higher since then?) is alarming. What we need now is a television documentary on the pros and cons of wood burning (including bonfires too?), explaining the health risks. And posters and leaflets at our doctor’s surgeries and council offices. I know that the Mums for Lungs group have made some excellent materials of this kind. And Nottingham & Sheffield Universities have been running a study on the ‘Burner Alert System’. It’s about trying to reduce health rsks in and around homes and communities by getting stove users to check their current local air polluiton level, via a website, before lighting up. I suppose the idea is that if the air is already bad, they will think twice before making it worse? Perhaps it’s better still not to burn wood, or coal, in the first palce – unless you really must? It hasn’t helped that the Stove Industry Alliance has almost been pushing these stoves and log burners at us for all they’re worth.But, of course, that is their role, to promote wood burning and make sales. It’s the health issues that need more emphasis. Where it is said that the new stoves can reduce emissions by up to 80-90% compared to older stoves and open fires, the important words are “can” and “up to”. There is no guarantee the new stoves will not be making unhealthy air pollution becaused much depends on what is burned in the stoves and how they are used. And no one is banning the older ‘dirtier’ stoves, sre they? Many are just being sold on. There is no national register (is there one for gas boilers?) and no one (official) goes to check on the emissions. These ‘informed choices’ are being left to the public, which sounds good, I agree. But usually neighbours have no choice. And what matters more, one person’s right to burn wood and make plenty of unhealthy smoke, or another’s right to breathe properly and safeguard their children’s health? Even if the smoke is ‘invisible’, if you can smell it, it is there and it is noxious.

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