Trendy wood burners pollute Brighton and Hove’s air – now councillors must act

Posted On 30 Jan 2022 at 1:16 am

Wood burning continues to grow in popularity. Unfortunately, it is a major source of fine particulate air pollution.

Soot is created when wood is burnt, with some of that soot travelling up our chimneys and into the air outside where others can breathe it in.

This soot is toxic because many harmful chemicals attach to these fine particles during the burning process.

These tiny toxic particles are so small that, when breathed in, they can pass through the lungs and into our bloodstream where they can then be passed to all parts of the human body by the blood.

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This is how these particulates make their way from our fireplaces and into our brains, hearts, lungs and, during pregnancy, into unborn children where they can cause harm.

A Smoke Control Area is a dedicated area of a city where the worst type of burning is limited by specifying cleaner fuels be burnt in open fires or, if burning wood, only DEFRA-approved wood burners are used.

Burning in this cleaner way still produces a lot of particulates and any type of burning should be discouraged if possible. However, it is the only tool that local authorities have to regulate these emissions.

Brighton and Hove City Council already has a Smoke Control Area. However, the designated area is small, covering only 7 per cent of the city.

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Compared with other cities, our city is the largest city in England without a city-wide Smoke Control Area.

We in Brighton and Hove do not have the same protection as others and I think we should have that protection in order to protect our health.

New World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline levels for health recommend that 24-hour average exposures should not exceed 15µg/m3 on three days per year.

Looking at the DEFRA-managed particulate air pollution monitor located in Preston Park, we can see that the 24-hour WHO levels were breached three times just 12 days into the year.

In fact, the old WHO guideline level of 25 µg/ m3 was also breached on Saturday 15 January.

The air pollution monitor is located in a park over 250 metres from the nearest home so you would expect these values to be higher in densely populated urban areas of our city closer to where people burn wood or drive motor vehicles.

Looking at other DEFRA air pollution monitors located in other urban parks, the PurpleAir website or when using a personal air pollution monitor, you will see high levels of pollution at the times when people are most likely to burn wood in their homes.

During the winter time especially, comparing our city to other areas in the UK, we often have fine particulate air pollution readings close to the most polluted places in the UK.

My conclusion is that burning wood adds significantly to our city’s air pollution. My view is that in such a densely populated city it is not right to subject air pollution on other people.

Domestic wood burning is responsible for 38 per cent of all particulate emissions in the UK and worryingly, between 2003 and 2019, emissions from domestic wood burning doubled.

Due to the health harm this type of burning causes, I believe that Brighton and Hove City Council should be doing all it can to protect us from air pollution caused by burning wood.

On Thursday (3 February) during the full council meeting I will be asking the council for extra protection from wood burning-related air pollution and requesting an expansion to our existing Smoke Control Area to protect us all.

Adrian Hill is an air quality campaigner who lives in Brighton.

  1. Peter Challis Reply

    So Adrian has no actual proof that times of high particulate levels are caused by wood burning stoves in the city but assumes it is the case.

    He also says that at some times, levels at some locations show high levels, but there are many sources including cooking, pollen from plants, dust, and salt spray from the sea.

    Being next to the coast with predominantly south-westerly breezes blowing clean air across the city is it really a major issue?

    Previously he’d been campaigning about cars, but now seems to accept the government statement that wood burning stoves produce 2x the particulates of all transport in the UK.

    • Adrian Hill Reply

      I submitted a number of references with the article that are available online. You can check the Brighton & Hove Preston Park PM2.5 count and the spikes on Friday evenings at the airqualityengland website. You can also check the PurpleAir website. The Clean Air Strategy 2019 details the 38% figure and a google search will show the doubling of emissions.

  2. Nathan Adler Reply

    Adrian also recently stated on another paper’s online comment section that only 10% wanted the OSR Temporary lane removed ignoring the thousands of other responses in that section, (in fact his selective logic meant only 5% asked for it to be permanent). Is he being selective with statistics here? Personally I don’t have a log burner.

  3. Adrian Hill Reply

    Some references from the article
    Smoke Control Area sizes
    Size of Smoke Control Area = 5.75km2 https://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/environment/noise-pollution-and-air-quality/smoke-control-areas-map
    Size of Brighton = 82.79 km2 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brighton_and_Hove

    Other cities in the UK with Smoke Control Areas

    Smoke Control Areas

    38% of the UK’s particulate emissions come from domestic wood burning

    Pregnant women / unborn babies risk to air pollution

    Wood burning emissions doubled between 2003 and 2019

    Preston Park DEFRA Air Quality Monitor levels (PM2.5 hourly measured showing peaks in the evenings and Fridays)

  4. Adrian Hill Reply

    Here is the Purple Air PM2.5 air quality sensor map

  5. David Pedersen Reply

    I agree. It is simply appalling that wood burning is still permitted in built-up areas. It has to be banned A.S.A.P. for the sake of our health and the climate.

  6. Hugh Reply

    What scientific proof do you have that the fine particles pass into the bloodstream?

    • Josephine C Reply

      Baccarelli, A. et al. (2006). Effects of exposure to air pollution on blood coagulation. J Thromb Haemost, 10.1111/j.1538-7836. Belleudi, V. et al. (2010). Impact of fine & ultrafine particles on emergency hospital admissions for cardiac & respiratory diseases. Epidemiology, 21, 3, 414–423. Calderón-Garcidueñas, L. et al. (2008). Long-term air pollution exposure is associated with neuroinflammation, an altered innate immune response, disruption of the blood-brain barrier, ultrafine particulate deposition, & accumulation of amyloid β-42 and α-synuclein in children & young adults. Toxicologic Pathology, 36, 2, 289–310. Chen, S-Y. et al. (2017).) Particulate & gaseous pollutants on inflammation, thrombosis, and autonomic imbalance in subjects at risk for cardiovascular disease. Environ Pollut, 223, 403–408. Croft, D.P. et al. (2017). Associations between ambient wood smoke & other particulate pollutants & systemic inflammation, coagulation, & thrombosis in cardiac patients. Environ Res, 154, 352–361.Del-Rio, M. et al.(2021). Household air pollution & blood markers of inflammation: A cross-sectional analysis. Indoor Air. Kamal, A. et al. (2015). Review of PAH exposure from combustion of biomass fuels & their less surveyed effect on blood parameters. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int, 22, 6, 4076-98. Nemmar, A. et al. (2002). Passage of inhaled particles into the blood circulation in humans. Circulation, 105, 411–414. Peters, A. et al. (2000). Air pollution & incidence of cardiac arrhythmia. Epidemiology, 11, 1, 11-17. Randolph, A.C. et al. (2019). Blood-brain barrier dysfunction after smoke inhalation injury. Shock, 51, 5, 634-649. Rückerl, R. et al. (2014). Associations between ambient air pollution & blood markers of inflammation & coagulation/fibrinolysis in susceptible populations. Environ Int 70, 32–49. Schneider, A. et al. (2010). Association of cardiac & vascular changes with ambient PM2.5 in diabetic individuals. Particle and Fibre Toxicology, 7, 14. Steenhof, M. et al. (2014). Air pollution exposure affects circulating white blood cell counts in healthy subjects: the role of particle composition, oxidative potential and gaseous pollutants. Inhal Toxicol, 26, 141-165. Sullivan, J.H. et al. (2007). A community study of the effect of particulate matter on blood measures of inflammation & thrombosis in an elderly population. Environ Health, 6, 3. Tang, H. et al. (2020). The short- and long-term associations of particulate matter with inflammation and blood coagulation markers: A meta-analysis. Environ Pollut, 267, 115630. Viehmann, A. et al. (2015). Long-term residential exposure to urban air pollution, & repeated measures of systemic blood markers of inflammation & coagulation. Occup Environ Med, 72, 9, 656-63. Von Bornstaedt, D. et al. (2014). Impact of particulate matter exposition on the risk of ischemic stroke: epidemiologic evidence & putative mechanisms. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, 34, 2, 215–220.Zhao, B. et al. (2020). Short-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter and out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: a nationwide case-crossover study in Japan. The Lancet Planetary Health, 4, 1, e15-e23.

  7. bill Rush Reply

    I am afraid it’s not just wood that is burnt around Patcham. You can often smell very nasty plastics and or other rubbish burning. One tries not to breath until it has passed. Very difficult !

  8. Teresa Lipson Reply

    I fully support what Adrian has written. My daughter lives in Launceston,Tasmania. Until fairly recently this town of 100,000 or so people had the highest respiratory disease rate in all of Australia, particularly amongst children. It was discovered that this was due to the number of wood burning stoves. The town is located in a valley and the tiny wood particles were getting trapped and people were breathing them in, with disastrous consequences. Since introducing strict controls on wood burners the respitory health of the citizens has improved considerably. So yes, Brighton and Hove council needs to protect the health of its local people and introduce whatever regulations are required

  9. Andrew Hinds Reply

    It’s an interesting opinion. I hope that it will be taken up by one of the parties in their manifesto for the next council elections. The electorate in the affected areas will then be able to have a say on whether or not they agree with it. However, I think it would be undemocratic to try and force it through prior to the election.

  10. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Mr. Hills’s article is interesting but would have gained from addressing the larger questions about the way in which homes are heated. As matters stand, this is all the result of energy being created somewhere (gas from Russia…) with all those consequences. Short of fusion being achieved, the best hope would be for solar roof-tiles which would be as cheap as horrible concrete tiles and far better looking (and so could be used in conservation areas, where solar panels run into diffculties). The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who spent much of his time in a mountain hut, said that he kept warm there by jumping up and down every hour for five minutes. He lived to a great age, and his nephew was married for a while to Diana Ross, though I do not think she ever visited the hut, still less takes that approach to heating matters.

  11. Fran Reply

    I think Adrian Hill is absolutely right to raise this issue. His views are backed up with scientific evidence. As the mother of a daughter who has been plagued with asthma throughout her life, I hope some action is taken to restrict the use of wood burning stoves.

  12. Sarah Barton Reply

    What can ordinary citizens do? My next door neighbour has a wood burner. We always know when they are using it because we can smell/taste it in the air, if we go outside. I am an asthma sufferer!

  13. Greens out Reply

    He’ll be suggesting barbeques are banned next. He can do one with that.

    • Silas Reply

      No, that’s Sustrans Cllr Lloyd’s job

  14. Simon Turner Reply

    Since when were woodburners ‘trendy’? Stupid title. Woodburners have been around for donkeys years.

    • Rob Carden Reply

      Adrian Hill will undoubtedly also want to see a ban on barbecues, bonfires, bonfire night, fireworks, crop burning on farms, cars, motorbikes, buses, candles, etc. How on earth does he expect society to function? He criticises those who occasionally burn wood in a log burner (to lower their heating bills) but seemingly accepts other forms of pollution which is hypocritical. Adrian probably lives in a heated bricks and mortar dwelling and uses a computer and mobile phone and uses motor vehicles to travel around. These are assumptions because I don’t know how he lives. Does he collect his weekly shopping on foot or by bicycle? Does he power his computer and phone by electricity? Does he have a hot shower, use a tumble dryer or boil the kettle? When his dwelling was built the construction process was very polluting but he has presumably overlooked this in favour of convenience, comfort and security which I enjoy too but I’m not the hypocrite (assumed) wagging my finger. I occasionally burn dry wood on a log burner to lower my gas heating bills which I consider to be perfectly reasonable considering that I don’t travel on planes and don’t own a car.

      • Rob Carden Reply

        Perhaps too cremations should be banned! There’s plenty of PM2.5 being produced by council controlled crematoriums. Perhaps Adrian Hill could explain if he will back a ban on cremations and what the greener alternative and societal solutions would be. I’d love to hear his rationale.

  15. John Reply

    I suspect the real cause of this issue is people burning illegal fuels (wet wood for eg) in unapproved devices (eg non DEFRA burners)

    A good wood burner with a strong secondary burn, using approved fuel (preferably smokeless or properly dried wood) produces miniscule amounts of smoke

  16. julie ogbourne Reply

    we have a wood burner which is our only form of heating. there is no gas supply to our property therefore we have to have it or expensive electric heaters. not everyone has a log burner because they are “trendy”

  17. Jo jones Reply

    Open fires don’t contribute to pm2.5 then, just Woodburners. There are 2.5 million open fires in the U.K and 1.5m stoves, why is the cleaner appliance the 1st in line for being banned, rather than unregulated burning on open fires, fire pits, Chimineas or bonfires?

  18. Stephen Crane Reply

    Make gas cheaper, then we wouldn’t need to light the fire…

  19. Clive Reply

    Sat here in my home office with all the windows shut tight owing to a wood burner pumping out smoke at low level, coming from next door. I’m in the middle of Hove, not a rural location. It’s a real enough problem.

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