This December will be the 70th anniversary of the 1952 London smog, when five days of choking smoke killed an estimated 12,000 Londoners. It was partly caused by a fuel crisis, particularly a shortage of coal, forcing people to burn poor quality mining waste.
Air pollution from house fires is expected to rise this winter as people turn to solid fuels to heat their homes in response to the energy and cost of living crisis.
Scientists from university research stations will track these changes in three UK cities. These complement the measures of a government network. My team’s analysis of this data, spanning more than a decade, tells us when, and to some extent why, people are burning wood.
Although outdoor wood burning, such as bonfires and patio heaters, can add to pollution in summer, Guy Fawkes night and New Year’s Eve; most of the pollution caused by burning wood comes from homes during winter evenings.
Most people don’t burn wood, but the 8% of homes that burn wood or coal have become one of the biggest sources of particulate pollution in the UK, surpassing traffic exhaust .
Some places, including London and Glasgow, recorded a slight improvement. This may be due to new stoves replacing highly polluting open fires, but any resulting reduction in pollution from burning wood is likely to be slow and limited. For example, in Libby, Montana, a citywide program to replace all old stoves with newer, less polluting models only resulted in about a 30% decrease in pollution. winter.
The wood is mainly burned for decorative reasons or for supplemental heating, but many houses do not burn every night. This means there is room for more gas burning and electric heating this winter. We already measure more pollution from wood burning around Christmas and New Years when families get together. Parts of the UK have also seen increases of up to 10% during Covid lockdowns.
In 2020, researchers from the universities of Sheffield and Nottingham showed how people’s homes were being polluted by their wood-burning stoves. Other studies have shown that heating with wood and solid fuels can increase air pollution along streets, in neighborhoods, in rural towns and villages, and in entire towns. The data also suggests that wood burning in London could spread from the capital to worsen air pollution in the south of England, and that wood burning pollution can also cross the English Channel and the sea. North.
Kate Langford of the charity Impact on Urban Health said: “People’s awareness of harmful pollution from burning wood is low. Communicating without judgment the link between wood burning and health is an essential step towards behavior change and regulation.