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Government takes bold action to cut pollution from household burning

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several wooden logs burning in a stove inside a brick fireplace

This morning there has been widespread positive coverage, including on the front pages of the Telegraph, Times, and the i of the government’s action to cut pollution from household burning.

With wood burning stoves and coal fires being the single largest source of the pollutant PM2.5 – emitting twice the contribution of industry and three times the contribution of road transport – these measures will help to tackle a form of pollution that penetrates deep into our hearts, lungs, and blood, and has been identified by the World Health Organisation as the most harmful air pollutant for human health.

Sales of bagged traditional house coal and wet wood in units under 2m3 will be phased out by February 2021, as will the sale of loose coal direct to customers via approved coal merchants by February 2023, allowing the public to switch to cleaner alternatives. There will also be limitations on the sale of manufactured solid fuels for domestic combustion from February 2021, with only those fuels with a low sulphur content and which emit a small amount of smoke being permitted for sale.

This phased implementation will ensure that public and suppliers have time to move to cleaner alternatives such as dry wood and manufactured solid fuels, while continuing to be able to use their stoves and open fires at home.

These alternatives not only produce less smoke and pollution that wet wood or coals, but are also cheaper and more efficient to burn, meaning that householders – including those who rely on stoves and open fires for heat – will not see their fuel costs rise.

Environment Secretary George Eustice, said:

Cosy open fires and wood-burning stoves are at the heart of many homes up and down the country, but the use of certain fuels means that they are also the biggest source of the most harmful pollutant that is affecting people in the UK. By moving towards the use of cleaner fuels such as dry wood we can all play a part in improving the health of millions of people.

This is the latest step in delivering on the challenge we set ourselves in our world-leading Clean Air Strategy. We will continue to be ambitious and innovative in tackling air pollution from all sources as we work towards our goal to halve the harm to human health from air pollution by 2030.

These measures have been welcomed by air quality campaigners, who have highlighted the importance of the work of government to improve air quality for the benefit of the nation’s health.

Professor Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on air quality said:

We know that air pollution causes significant health issues across the life course. It is key that the Government does everything it can to improve the air we all breathe. Today’s announcement on domestic burning is a welcome step forward, and will in time, play a role in reducing the pollution associated with PM2.5.

Inhaling combustion particles from any source is harmful, but more so than ever when it’s directly within your home.

Burning coal for heat and power has to stop and strong guidance is needed to insist that if wood is burnt in approved stoves, it is non-contaminated and dry.

John Maingay, Director of Policy and Influencing at the British Heart Foundation, said:

Wood and coal burning accounts for 40 per cent of harmful levels of background PM2.5 in the UK, and our research has shown that toxic PM2.5 can enter the bloodstream and damage our heart and circulatory system.

Phasing out sales of coal and wet wood is a vital first step towards protecting the nation’s health from toxic air. This is a welcome move from a Government showing its ambition and commitment to tackling air pollution.

However, we must not stop there. Air pollution is a major public health challenge, and it requires an urgent and bold response.

Alongside these measures, we have committed to setting an ambitious, legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter through our ground-breaking Environment Bill, and are ensuring that local authorities have a clear framework for tackling air pollution – including making it easier for them to enforce of smoke control areas.

Our Clean Air Strategy, which has been praised by the World Health Organisation as “an example for the rest of the world to follow”, commits to further measures to tackle a range of pollutants including PM2.5, ammonia, and sulphur dioxide from all sources, and we are working with local authorities across the country to help them target the pollution affecting their communities.

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  1. Comment by Susan Trevino posted on

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  2. Comment by frozen orange juice posted on

    there is a good book called norwegian wood i think . tells you the way forward if you are dependant on wood . . .. if you burn wood you need to take the time to read this and change your thought on when and who you buy your wood from . become the wood police . .

  3. Comment by frozen orange juice posted on

    its up to the suppliers to check and sell the wood . . there should be a body to report to if your sold wood that does not have the right moisture content .
    ive bought wood for years and its always a suck it and see affair . sometimes you get good stuff that dry makes the right clunk sound when you bang two bit together . other stuff wet not seasoned and hisses when in the stove . so you cant use it youve got to leave it for months if not a year beofre its usable . when buying a large amount it always ends up mixed . the only way round this is to buy kiln dried which is more expensive but at least it burns your not sitting nursing a stove into getting going . . if you live rurally then its often the only form of heating as electicity is expensive . coupled with the fact that no one is forcing landnlords to properly insulate homes it can be a tough winter . people often only heating one room and even then with wood thats expensive . so where the goverment say using dry wood is cheaper thats nonesense its expensive for wood wet or dry . suppliers are quite happy to punt on wet stuff mixed with dry like you will not notice . .
    you ask for hardwood you get yes some form of hardwood but it can be inferior and burns in no time . the only way forward is oak or larch or beech not my favourite i have to say which are expensive . and hard to come buy unless its imported from estonia poland etc . but these are premium woods . . . there is a hefty price to pay if you stay in the sticks dependant on sticks lol . .. my house is freezing ive worked my way through 10 potato box fulls in three months possible 3.5 can remeber when i started using the stove . which is a lot of wood . some of it was oak and some some other hardwood that burned way to quick . . im know going to try so oak slab cut up well seasoned for 6 years so it dry . costing 300 pounds a load whatever that looks like i shall find out . its all a mystery in terms of what you get for your money . some sell bags others loads trailers varied in size so it can be pot luck what you actually get for your money . coupled with quality it can be expensive . . needs to be standardised so the consumer actually get value for money . .

  4. Comment by Anthony Brown posted on

    Impossible to police. Coal should defiantly be banned, should have been years ago.

    Why not declare ,clean air areas, particularly in cities, where the majority of the population live.

    Wood fuel should not be demonised, only inexperience leads to burning of wet wood. If cord wood is left and not burned it has a potentially greater environmental impact because as it rots it releases methane which has a longer cycle and therefore greater impact on climate change than CO2

    Mismanagement of woodlands also contributes to habitat degradation and less carbon fixing potential, especially in coppice woodlands systems, which remain an untapped resource. Coppiced trees usually hazel regenerate and every 7 years are felled again if they are left they fix less carbon. If every 7 years this were burned the only carbon cost would be that of haulage and processing. With huge gains in habitat maintenance.

    Almost all modern foresters have been sold the lie that the only productive form of forestry is conifers and large hardwood trees. This isn't the case as a coppice woodland of good quality will yield more material and financial return if the right markets are tapped into, biomass is not being considered.
    The barrier seems to be lack of mechanical harvesting machinery, this is just requires the right innovation.

  5. Comment by Roger G posted on

    Do you have a map of the distribution of particulate pollution levels around the UK?

  6. Comment by R J Barnard posted on

    I wonder if the author of this strategy knows anything about solid fuel.

    In the first place most of us with multi-fuel stoves cannot burn coal anyway - even if we do not live in a smokeless zone the stoves are not designed for coal as it burns hotter than smokeless fuel or wood and the result would be damage to the stove.

    Secondly, what idiot would burn wet wood? There is too much moisture and uncured resin and this would quickly block the flue and the acid would corrode the steel resulting in an expensive rebuild.

    One suspects the consequence of attempting to stop the sale of green wood is that only kiln-dried wood is sold - energy is consumed in its production thus introducing an energy-conversion loss into the supply chain. See basic school physics.

    Then we come to manufactured smokeless fuel. There are many different types with different calorific values and different sizes/properties dependent on the purpose for which they are intended - hopper fed heating systems, stoves etc. From my own experience I know that some brands do not burn properly in my stove.

    Then we come to the question of sulphur. There is far less sulphur in the atmosphere now than, say, 50 years ago. Anyone with knowledge of gardening will confirm that fungus is a far greater problem than it was when coal fires were the norm - so we try to control it with garden fungicides rendered ineffective by EU regulations.

    Finally, the people most affected by this policy will be those living in rural areas, often without mains gas, who rely on solid fuel, oil or LPG for heating. Maybe it will come as a surprise to people who do not travel outside the M25 that such places exist.

    This policy can only increase fuel costs especially for those in rural/remote locations and who already have higher living costs than their urban counterparts.

    • Replies to R J Barnard>

      Comment by Reginald Bowler posted on

      "most of us with multi-fuel stoves cannot burn coal anyway"

      A multi-fuel stove is specifically for burning firewood or coal.

      • Replies to Reginald Bowler>

        Comment by R J Barnard posted on

        Wrong. The handbook for mine specifically states that it is NOT to be used with coal fo the reasons I gave in the initial comment. By all means burn coal in your multi-fuel stove - I am sure the supplier will happily provide a replacement at a price!

        • Replies to R J Barnard>

          Comment by frozen orange juice posted on

          yes my la nordica cuchinotta stove specifically says do not burn coal .. i also says do not burn soft woods like pine etc or wet wood .

          • Replies to frozen orange juice>

            Comment by DiggerUK posted on

            There are two types of stoves, wood burners for wood only, and multi fuel for both coal, wood and assorted briquettes.
            It's the different specs of the the metal used that means you have to be careful. Burning coal in a wood burner will likely result in the metal cracking, the flue liners will be unaffected.

            Anybody who has had a problem with a stove sold as a multi fuel will have a solid case for replacement..._

  7. Comment by Alun Rees posted on

    This is absolute rubbish and an attack on rural families in particular. And anyway who with any sense burns wet wood? It gives off little heat. Very disappointed with the government.

  8. Comment by Alastair Henderson posted on

    Will the government take equally bold action to stop the extensive burning of heather moorland which creates considerable air pollution? I hadn't heard of PM2.5 until now - presumably it is released when heather moorland is burned as it is when 'wet wood' is burned?

  9. Comment by S.Baines posted on

    smokeless fuel does not have the same Energy value as natural coal of the same Mass. So as it is more expensive already i cannot see how the overall cost of my heating will remain the same.
    I would be happy to see figures which prove me wrong.