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.
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.
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.
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