The use of fires is the most environmentally damaging method of heating British homes during the winter season.
Winter is approaching and trucks are transporting logs on the streets close to my residence. Local hardware stores and gas stations are selling wood and smokeless fuels, and the scent of smoke is once again permeating my community.
Although a fire may seem inviting, it actually has a larger impact. The report from the previous chief medical officer stated that using solid fuels to heat a home is the most harmful method in terms of pollution.
According to research conducted by Ricardo Energy and Environment, approximately 284 individuals in London are experiencing premature deaths annually as a result of outdoor air pollution caused by solid fuel heating. The study also suggests that there are roughly 90 additional cases of childhood asthma, 60 new cases of stroke, and 30 new cases of lung cancer each year.
The use of fireplaces and stoves in London results in an annual cost of £187m for health and the economy, which averages to £24 per resident. Regardless of whether they use solid fuels or not, each person in London who uses a fireplace or stove is responsible for almost £800 in costs per year, from a perspective of polluter responsibility.
The findings of the London research align with a European estimate of €760 (£650) as the annual societal-health cost for households using wood stoves.
Fay Johnston, a professor at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research in Tasmania, who was not part of the London study, stated that reducing the use of wood heaters in densely populated areas would be a cost-effective way to improve public health and the economy. Even a slight decrease in outdoor wood smoke could decrease the prevalence of chronic heart and lung diseases and increase the life expectancy of London residents.
The UK government has reported that the use of solid fuels in homes is the second leading cause of airborne particle pollution in the country. While some burning may occur outdoors, such as for patio heating in the summer, the majority of solid fuel pollution is measured during winter evenings when individuals are heating their homes.
This issue is not limited to London or large cities.
Mark Tebbutt, from Chorley in Lancashire, collaborated with acquaintances and community members to implement measuring tools throughout the town. The collected data indicates frequent violations of the World Health Organization’s recommendations and exposes the burning patterns of the locals.
Tebbutt stated that Chorley has a significant amount of older terrace houses equipped with fireplaces. As a result, the smell of burning frequently enters his home. The burning of solid fuels primarily occurs on weekend evenings, specifically Fridays to Sundays, from October to April. However, this activity has intensified during times of financial hardship.
The recently conducted research was a component of the London Wood Burning Project, which is financially supported by Defra and involves 18 participating councils.
The scientists conducting the project at Imperial College London set up measurement devices in the residences and yards of individuals who use solid fuel for burning. They also covered approximately 125 miles (200km) of streets on foot, carrying backpacks equipped with sensors.
The primary source of indoor exposure occurred during initial fire lighting or when adding fuel, though it was generally lower compared to the particle pollution from cigarette smoking or cooking. The study also observed particle pollution outside of homes that used solid fuel, even in a home with a modern stove.
Continual instances of wood burning were discovered in local neighborhoods. These occurrences can be seen in nationwide surveys where individuals have reported complaints about their homes being affected by smoke from their neighbors’ fires.
John Casey, the leader of the fieldwork investigation from Imperial College London, stated that their sense of smell was effective in detecting wood and coal burning. Even though they couldn’t see individual chimneys or smoke in the dark, they were able to identify solid fuel burning smells as they walked through the streets. The team made note of these locations during each walk. After analyzing the data from the backpacks, they found that their smell map correlated well with their measurements. This suggests that if you smell solid fuel burning, you are likely being exposed to higher levels of particle pollution.