Woodburning stoves drive levels of dangerous air pollutants every year

Trendy woodburning stoves help drive levels of dangerous air pollutants up by 3% every year in the UK, official statistics reveal

  • A new report found that particulate air pollution declined from 1970 to 2000 
  • This was largely due to UK turning its back on burning coal as a power source
  • But since then, it’s been ‘partially offset’ by emissions from residential burning
  • Domestic wood burning was found to increase the levels by 3 per cent a year 

The most deadly form of air pollution rose by three per cent last year thanks to an increase in the use of trendy woodburning stoves, according to official statistics.

Particulates are the group of pollutants that are so tiny they can ‘enter the bloodstream, lodging in the heart, brain and other organs’, and causing serious impacts to health, Defra said.

The report found that particulate air pollution had declined between 1970 and the late 2000s, largely due to Britain turning its back on burning coal as a source of power.

But since then, this has ‘been partially offset by increases in emissions from residential burning’ and ‘the increasing popularity of solid fuel appliances in the home such as wood-burning stoves,’ according to the report.  

The most deadly form of air pollution rose by three per cent last year thanks to an increase in the use of woodburning stoves, according to official statistics (stock image) 

The report found that particulate air pollution had declined between 1970 and the late 2000s, largely due to Britain turning its back on burning coal as a source of power. But since then, this has ‘been partially offset by increases in emissions from residential burning’ and ‘the increasing popularity of solid fuel appliances in the home such as wood-burning stoves’

Trendy wood burners TRIPLE the level of harmful pollution particles inside homes 

Wood burners are a danger to children and elderly people and should be sold with a health warning, a study finds.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield placed pollution detectors in 19 homes for a month and collected data every few minutes.

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

These particles have been linked to a number of health issues and can cause damage to the lungs – particularly in young and old people.

The burners were all ‘smoke exempt’, meaning they meet government standards due to be compulsory by 2022.

‘Emissions of particulate matter arising from the domestic combustion of wood as a fuel increased by 35 per cent between 2010 and 2020, and accounted for 17 per cent of primary emissions of PM2.5 and 10 per cent of PM10 in 2020,’ it said.

‘There is an increasing trend in emissions from this source; annual emissions from domestic wood burning have increased by an average of 3 per cent each year since 2003.’ 

This makes wood burning a bigger contributor to particulate pollution than cars and lorries, which contributed 12 per cent of PM10 and 13 per cent of PM2.5 in 2020.

Scientists warned that the trend for burning wood at home was threatening to undo improvements in air quality.

Professor Alastair Lewis, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of York said: ‘Burning wood for home heating, particularly in cities, undoes many of the recent improvements seen in PM2.5 – hard won gains that have been achieved from our collective investments in cleaner cars, buses and lorries.’ 

Professor William Collins, professor of climate processes, University of Reading, said the air pollution caused by burning wood meant it could not be classed as ‘environmentally friendly’.

He said: ‘Domestic wood burning is now the single largest contributor to fine particle pollution in the UK. 

‘These particles can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. 

‘Strong pollution controls have been very successful in cleaning up particles from vehicle exhausts. 

‘Cutting down on pollution from wood burning would therefore make significant inroads into reducing the particles in the air we breathe.’ 

The report said that 2020 saw air pollution from NOX – oxides of nitrogen particularly nitrogen dioxide – fall sharply. 

‘A large reduction in road traffic activity in 2020 following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to a substantial reduction in average roadside NO2 concentrations in 2020 compared to previous years,’ it added. 

In May last year, new legislation came into force that restricts the sale of the most polluting fuels used in domestic burning.  

Meanwhile, in January 2022, rules came into place that mean all new stoves placed on the market in the UK must be Ecodesign compliant. 

‘Ecodesign stoves, compared to non-Ecodesign stoves, produce lower emissions and are more efficient,’ a Defra spokesperson explained.

‘We recognise that some households are reliant on solid fuels for heating, hot water and cooking. 

‘The measures we have introduced will protect health by phasing out the sale of the most polluting fuels and by encouraging a transition to less polluting fuels.’ 

Revealed: MailOnline dissects the impact greenhouse gases have on the planet – and what is being done to stop air pollution


Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process. 

It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production. 

The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm. 

CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans. 

Nitrogen dioxide 

The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

Sulfur dioxide 

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain. 

Carbon monoxide 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 


What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air. 

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye. 

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture 

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Why are particulates dangerous?

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads. 

Health impact

What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution. 

Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes. 

As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution. 

Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer. 

Deaths from pollution 

Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems. 


Asthma triggers

Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed. 

Problems in pregnancy 

Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds. 

Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’. 

What is being done to tackle air pollution? 

Paris agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. 

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

Carbon neutral by 2050 

The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. 

They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.

Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.  

However,  MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.

Norway’s electric car subsidies

The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient. 

Criticisms of inaction on climate change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change. 

The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall. 

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