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We are learning more about the health risks associated with air pollution, and especially with that caused by wood burning stoves.

Some of us are old enough to remember the smogs of the 50’s – a visual reminder of the large particles of air pollution caused by burning coal.

Some us saw the woodburner as an eco solution, to replace the large particulate pollution of coal, and apparently have a lower carbon footprint.

We now find that the visible pollutants of the past have been replaced by the invisible pollutants of the present, which in some ways are more dangerous.

The problems with micro-pollutants – from cars and wood etc – are somewhat due to the small size of the particles – which can penetrate every cell of our body – and the chemical nature of the particles – and their effect on our organs.

The latest version of figures of pollution are measured in micrometres. The real nasties are PM2.5 which mean they are 2.5 micrometres or less, and for your comparison the human hair is about 100 micrometres wide. Their small size ensures that they can introduce a wide variety of deadly chemicals into every cell in your body – fed by blood flow.

We are familiar with the current fury about diesel engines which visually (and invisibly) pollute our roads, but scientists now claim that the pollution from one modern woodburning stove is equivalent to 18 diesel engine emissions or 6 big artics. Evidence is building up of a litany of associations of woodburners and all major deaths in the UK – 4 of 5 major causes of death have an air pollution connection. We long ago gave up smoking because we learned of the problems of inhaling tobacco smoke. Now, walking your kids to school in the morning can be equivalent to giving them a couple of cigarettes.

We need to end our reliance on wood burning stoves and move to something cleaner. At this moment the only solution is an air/ground source heat pump. They usually produce 3 or 4 units of heat from one unit of electricity, so we need a clean source of electricity to power them. They also work most efficiently in insulated homes, but that is true for every source of heat in our homes. If you live in an old home in a conservation area like Peasenhall, it can be problematic to get permission to insulate/improve your home. Through the Parish Council we are exploring ways of negotiating with the Conservation Planners to adapt building codes to the 21stC.

Many of us have woodburners in our homes, but the science that is emerging of the associated health risks, can inhibit our use of them, but you cannot just abandon them. Some guidelines:

– use the correct fuel – dried wood from an established source, but not pallets or waste wood with surface finishes

– replace old inefficient stoves – they eat wood and don’t burn the wood efficiently – and replace with an eco-stove (ie all sold from 2020) which still pollutes but more efficiently.

– seems counter-intuitive, but use your oil burner more (costs more but pollutes less) and use your wood burner less often.

  • insulate your home better – use less fuel


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