Fashionable wood burning stoves are the UK’s single biggest source of particulate air pollution and produce three times more of the toxins than road traffic, Government data shows.

DEFRA figures reveal domestic combustion created more than 47,000 tonnes of PM2.5 pollution in 2019 — 43 per cent of all PM2.5 particles produced.

The vast majority of this comes from domestic wood burning, which spewed out around 41,000 tonnes of the dangerous pollutant in 2019. 

This means more than a third (38 per cent) of PM2.5 particles made in the UK in 2019 were from domestic wood burning stoves — three times more than from road traffic. 

PM2.5, or particulate matter, are tiny pieces of carbon which measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter.

They infiltrate a person’s body and get wedged in internal organs, leading to a host of health issues. 

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Fashionable wood burning stoves are the UK's single biggest source of particulate air pollution and produce three times more of the toxins than the nation's road traffic, Government data released today shows

 Fashionable wood burning stoves are the UK’s single biggest source of particulate air pollution and produce three times more of the toxins than the nation’s road traffic, Government data released today shows

DEFRA says in the report that PM2.5 is a toxin which ‘may enter the bloodstream and be transported around the body, lodging in the heart, brain and other organs. Therefore, exposure to PM can result in serious impacts to health.’

Domestic wood burning is the single biggest source of PM2.5 in the country despite just eight per cent of the population owning one, according to figures from a separate report released earlier this week.

But despite the disastrous environmental impact of the wood burning stoves, there are no current plans to prohibit their sale or use. 

However a ban on the sale of wet wood is due to come into force on May 1. Wet wood is harder to burn properly due to its moisture and therefore it produces more of the sooty chemicals. 

DEFRA figures reveal domestic combustion created more than 47,000 tonnes of PM2.5 pollution in 2019 — 43 per cent of all PM2.5 particles produced. The vast majority of this comes from domestic wood burning, which spewed out around 41,000 tonnes of the dangerous pollutant in 2019

DEFRA figures reveal domestic combustion created more than 47,000 tonnes of PM2.5 pollution in 2019 — 43 per cent of all PM2.5 particles produced. The vast majority of this comes from domestic wood burning, which spewed out around 41,000 tonnes of the dangerous pollutant in 2019

In the 1970s and 1980s the majority of domestic PM2.5 emissions came from coal burners, but these now make up only a tiny percentage of all pollutants. 

On the flip side, wood-sourced emissions from households have soared in recent times, more than doubling from just 20,000 tonnes a year in 2003. 

Road vehicles, which are still predominantly powered by petrol or diesel, produce 13,000 tonnes of PM2.5 a year, drastically down from previous figures due to strict legislation forcing out older, more polluting vehicles and ushering in cleaner tech.

‘Exhaust emissions have decreased markedly since 1996 due to stricter emissions standards (by 85 per cent for both PM10 and PM2.5),’ DEFRA said in its report. 

‘This has been partially offset by an increase in non-exhaust emissions (e.g. brake, tyre and road wear) as traffic activity has increased.’

The other major source of particulate matter emissions is industry and manufacturing, which is split into two categories but collectively creates a third of all PM2.5 emissions.

Overall, the amount of particulate matter produced annually in the UK has dropped dramatically in recent decades. DEFRA says PM2.5 emissions are down 80 per cent since 1970 when more than half a million tonnes were belched out every 12 months during Britain's industrial heyday (light red line)

Overall, the amount of particulate matter produced annually in the UK has dropped dramatically in recent decades. DEFRA says PM2.5 emissions are down 80 per cent since 1970 when more than half a million tonnes were belched out every 12 months during Britain’s industrial heyday (light red line)

Overall, the amount of particulate matter produced annually in the UK has dropped dramatically in recent decades. 

DEFRA says PM2.5 emissions are down 80 per cent since 1970 when more than half a million tonnes were belched out every 12 months during Britain’s industrial heyday. 

‘Levels of both [PM2.5 and PM10 have] generally decreased year-on-year between 1970 and the late-2000s,’ DEFRA says. 

‘There are many reasons for this long-term decrease covering most emissions sectors, but the reduction in the burning of coal and improved emission standards for transport and industrial processes are major causes. 

‘Since the late 2000s, annual emissions have fluctuated year-on-year because significant decreases in emissions from some sectors are largely offset to increases in emissions from wood burning in a domestic setting and by solid fuel burning by industry (particularly use of biomass). ‘

In December, researchers from the University of Sheffield found wood burners triple the level of harmful pollution particles inside homes.

The scientists placed pollution detectors in 19 homes using the stoves for a month and collected data every few minutes.

Wood burners were lit for about four hours at a time and, while operating, the levels of harmful particles detected was three times greater than when they were unlit. 

The burners were all ‘smoke exempt’, meaning they meet government standards due to be compulsory by 2022 – but they only measure outside pollution. 

How 25% moisture content means wood logs are considered wet

 

Wood logs are considered wet when the moisture content is above 25 per cent.

A rough guide to seeing if your logs are too wet to burn is to knock two pieces together — if they make a dull thud, then there is too much water for a fireplace.

Wet wood will also result in too much smoke and a build-up of creosote inside the fireplace and flue. If you need to dry out wet wood, then it is best to split it into smaller pieces and then air dry for the spring and summer.

It is advised to dry wet wood for up to 18 months before it reaches the ideal moisture content.

Those who want a more precise measurement can also use a digital moisture meter (below) which can be bought for about £20.

The instruments generally have two pins which can be pushed into a piece of firewood to give a reading, and different calibration scales for various wood species for more precise figures.

There is also what is called the ‘soap test’, which sees people rub washing up liquid on one end of the wood before blowing through the wood from the other end. If bubbles can be seen, then the firewood is dry.



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