Although we often blame traffic as being the largest contributor to outdoor air pollution (primarily PM2.5) in cities, this isn’t always the case. As The Guardian reports, even though just 8% of the UK population use wood burners, these contribute more to particle pollution than all the traffic on the roads.
This is astounding, especially considering that around half of those burning wood are doing so for aesthetic reasons rather than function. Since wood burners are primarily used in winter, this causes air pollution in the UK (and other countries) to soar during the colder months.
What makes the pollution caused by wood burners even more concerning is the type of pollution they emit. Despite only 8% of the UK population using these fireplaces, studies have shown that wood burning is responsible for 38% of the PM2.5 pollution in the country. By comparison, road traffic contributed only 12%.
PM2.5 is generally considered one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution because the particles can enter our bodies and get stuck in organs, causing many problems. At this time, enough studies have been done on ultrafine dust particles to prove they negatively impact our health.
Furthermore, wood burners don’t just add to the pollution levels outdoors; they also triple the harmful pollution particles inside homes. This means that wood burners should only be used as a last resort for heating because they harm health inside and out.
Luckily, there is some good news too! Since the 1970s, overall pollution levels have fallen significantly. This is largely due to cleaner vehicles but is primarily due to the declining use of wood burners in favour of cleaner heating methods. However, despite lower particle pollution levels now, there is still more work to be done.