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This German village serves as an example of the potential cancer risks associated with wood burning.
Environment World News

This German village serves as an example of the potential cancer risks associated with wood burning.

In the fall of 2018, a shipment containing equipment for measuring air pollution was delivered to the heart of the quaint village of Melpitz in Germany.

Dr. Dominik van Pinxteren from the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research stated the motivation behind their research: “Our concern was that the burning of wood could be a significant contributor to particle pollution in smaller villages, but these regions are not thoroughly monitored by official air quality networks.”

Melpitz is situated in Saxony and enclosed by farmland and fields. It is inhabited by approximately 200 individuals who reside in 63 residences. The majority of homes are warmed by central heating systems fueled by either oil or wood, while a small percentage of households use coal.

The scientists discovered that during winter, the amount of particle pollution in the village was frequently twice as high as in the surrounding fields. The pollution was particularly severe on weekends due to the additional smoke from stoves. The villagers were estimated to have a 50% lower risk of death from the increased particle pollution compared to their risk of dying in a traffic accident.

The atmosphere in Melpitz was found to contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known to cause cancer. These chemicals are commonly found in the smoke from burning wood and coal. The risk of developing cancer from these pollutants was comparable to that in other large European cities, such as Athens and Florence.

According to Van Pinxteren, the results are noteworthy because using wood for residential heating can cause considerable pollution, even in smaller communities. This pollution occurs in the same areas where people live, and it affects individuals of all ages. This is due to the fact that we all breathe the same air.

Newly released information from a community in Slovenia and research on three smaller communities in Ireland suggest that the situation in Melpitz may be widespread in rural regions. This is also true for the UK, where the number of homes using wood and coal for heating is double that of urban areas.

A recent research project examined the health consequences of burning wood, coal, and peat inside houses in Ireland, particularly in rural areas. The study found that elderly individuals who used open fires to heat their homes were 2.3 times more likely to develop respiratory disease compared to those who used closed stoves. This added risk was in addition to the effects of smoking, childhood lung issues, and humidity in the household, all of which were significant contributing factors on their own.

People who had central heating as a group had a higher probability of experiencing risk. This was believed to be a result of the high percentage of Irish households that had central heating and also used open fires as a secondary source of heat.

A previous research conducted in Ireland discovered a correlation between indoor smoke from open fires and a faster decline in cognitive function. Similarly, a study in the US revealed that using a wood stove or fireplace as a source of heating in a residence increased the likelihood of lung cancer by 43%.

The need for improved data and measures to decrease exposure to wood and coal pollution in rural communities throughout Europe is urgent.

According to Tessa Bartholomew-Good of the organization Global Action Plan, there is not enough public understanding of the negative effects of domestic burning. The initial action should be to increase awareness of these effects among consumers. One way to do this could be by implementing health warning labels on stoves and solid fuels such as wood, coal, and alternative fuels, similarly to how smoking warnings are used to educate the public about its health risks.

Source: theguardian.com