Peo­ple burn­ing wet wood on in­ef­fi­cient stoves 'poi­son­ing them­selves'

The Guardian Australia - - Environment - Matthew Tay­lor En­vi­ron­ment cor­re­spon­dent

Peo­ple burn­ing wet wood on in­ef­fi­cient stoves are poi­son­ing them­selves and their neigh­bours, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from a lead­ing think­tank.

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 coau­thor 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, hy­per­ef­fi­cient stoves and prop­erly dried wood, peo­ple are un­know­ingly poi­son­ing them­selves, their chil­dren and their neigh­bours.”

Al­though many of the health prob-

lems 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.

Pho­to­graph: Global Warm­ing Im­ages/Alamy

A house­hold chim­ney emit­ting smoke.

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