Sunday, December 20, 2020

Wood burners triple harmful indoor air pollution, study finds

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Fri 18 Dec 2020 08.18 EST

Wood burners triple the level of harmful pollution particles inside homes and should be sold with a health warning, says scientists, who also advise that they should not be used around elderly people or children.

The tiny particles flood into the room when the burner doors are opened for refuelling, a study found. Furthermore, people who load in wood twice or more in an evening are exposed to pollution spikes two to four times higher than those who refuel once or not at all.

The particles can pass through the lungs and into the body and have been linked to a wide range of health damage, particularly in younger and older people.

The research was conducted in 19 homes in Sheffield over the course of a month at the start of 2020. The wood burners used were all models certified by the government as “smoke exempt appliances”, meaning they produce less smoke. But this and the new EcoDesign standard, due to become compulsory by 2022, only assess outdoor pollution.


Higher outdoor air pollution and cooking fumes were ruled out as causes of the indoor peaks. The particles are the most harmful pollutants in wood smoke, but it also contains carcinogenic chemicals including benzene and formaldehyde.

“Instead of being seen as a harmless appliance, wood-burning stoves should be recognised as having the potential for harm,” said James Heydon, of the University of Nottingham, who was part of the study team. “Most of our participants were unaware of this and more needs to be done to raise awareness of the risks.”

Three of the households in the study stopped using their burners after seeing the results and another 12 took action such as refuelling faster or less often, or ensuring the wood was really dry.

“There is no reason to believe that particulate matter from wood-burning stoves is less toxic than that from other sources, such as combustion of fossil fuels,” said Prof Jonathan Grigg, of Queen Mary University of London, who led a recent report on the health effects of indoor air pollution on children for the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.


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