Wood burner air pollution

Wood burners should come with a health warning, study suggests

Wood burners have been found to triple levels of harmful indoor pollution, and should not be used around the vulnerable, scientists determine.

People who load wood into a wood burner are exposed to twice as much pollution than those who do not, a study conducted by the University of Sheffield has found.

Particulate matter floods the room when burner doors are opened. These particles enter the lungs and into the bloodstream and are linked to a host of health impacts, particularly in within the young and elderly.

University of Sheffield conducted this research within 19 homes around Sheffield over a period of a month using wood burner models certified as ‘smoke exempt appliances’ by the government, meaning they produce less smoke. However, these were assessed by outdoor pollution standards.

The new EcoDesign standard will become compulsory in 2020. Government is also phasing out wet wood, which generates more smoke. Wood and coal burning in homes is estimated to cause nearly 40% of outdoor particulate pollution.

However, the study followed people who only used dry, seasoned wood and the research is among the first to analyse indoor pollution on a real-life basis.

‘Our findings are a cause for concern. It is recommended that people living with those particularly susceptible to air pollution, such as children, the elderly, or vulnerable, avoid using wood-burning stoves. If people want to use them, we recommend minimising the time the stove is open during lighting or refuelling,’ Dr. Rohit Chakraborty at the University of Sheffield commented.

Whilst it is acknowledged that wood burners cause less indoor pollution than open fires, opening the door to refuel reduces the stove to an open fire, flood particulate matter into the home.

‘The peaks take an hour or two to dissipate, but by the time it comes down, someone opens the door again to refuel and you get spike after spike,’ Dr. Chakraborty elaborated.

However, the University of Sheffield recognise that people without central heating heavily rely on wood burners and have not called for a ban. Dr. Chakraborty explained that ‘we should leave it to people to decide, but they should at least know what is going on.’

‘This study confirms that indoor wood burners contribute significantly to indoor air pollution,’ said WCRAQ member Professor Jonathan Grigg of the Queen Mary University of London. ‘It also suggests that even government-certified solid fuel stoves impair local outdoor air quality. It is therefore difficult to justify their use in any urban area.’