Is your wood stove choking you?

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Is your wood stove choking you?

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Mar 11, 2018 4:41 pm

Is your wood stove choking you? How indoor fires are suffocating cities
A wood stove emits more harmful air particulates than a diesel truck. Does their newfound popularity in cities threaten to wipe out progress in reducing air pollution?

Beth Gardiner

Thu 22 Feb 2018 02.30 EST
Last modified on Thu 22 Feb 2018 06.35 EST

Emma Meaden loves to sit in her north-west London flat, her dogs napping at her feet, watching the flames dance in her new wood stove. When she first moved in, she lit a few fires in the old-fashioned fireplace – but it was a poor way to heat her sitting room and she was intrigued by the stoves she’d seen at friends’ homes in the country. Along with the savings on heating and the ambiance, Meaden liked the idea that wood was a renewable fuel – one that, she supposed, would shrink her carbon footprint. “I’m always trying to do the right thing,” she says.

Like Meaden, many Britons have embraced the cosy, hearth-and-home feeling of burning wood. The government has helped propagate the notion of wood as a renewable fuel that saves money and the environment alike – an image that stove manufacturers have happily seized upon for their marketing campaigns.

The truth, though, is less pleasant than those hygge fantasies. Wood smoke is thick with the tiny particulates, known as PM2.5, that are linked to heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia and various other ailments. What’s more, the claims about a climate benefit from wood use are questionable.

Cars and trucks get more attention but nationally, domestic wood burning is the largest single source of PM2.5. According to one analysis of government data, it produces more than twice as much as all road traffic. While concerns about diesel vehicles focus largely on the nitrogen dioxide they produce, the evidence tying particulates to death and disease is even more powerful.

According to Leigh Crilley, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Birmingham, wood smoke also carries more carcinogens than diesel or petrol exhaust.

The increasing popularity of wood fires, scientists warn, threatens to erase any progress big cities might achieve in reducing pollution from traffic. “It’s overtaking the gains we’re making,” Crilley said.

One study from 2014 found that wood smoke was adding more particle pollution to London’s air than the first two phases of the city’s low-emission zone were expected to remove. In London and Birmingham, King’s College researchers reported wood accounted for up to 31% of locally produced particulates. And across Europe, wood burning is worsening pollution in capitals such as Paris, Berlin and Lisbon.

No smoke without fire

Meaden is correct that using a stove is far better than burning an ordinary “open fire”. Not only are open fires – the ordinary, fireplace kind – highly polluting, burning wood on them is illegal in the “smoke control” areas common in British cities, where wood may only be burned in an approved stove. Only “smokeless” fuel – specially made briquettes or coals; not wood – can be burned in open fires.

Many people don’t realise that, says Simon Birkett, founder of the Clean Air in London. “Just because you happen to have an open fireplace in Wandsworth or Richmond or something going back 100 years, doesn’t mean you can burn wood. It was banned in 1956.”

But wood stoves still add an extra dose of particles into the air: in fact, a wood-burning stove emits more particles per hour than a modern diesel lorry.

What’s more, the climate benefit may well prove just as illusory as that of diesel, another supposed wonder fuel.

According to one UK analysis, domestic wood burning produces more than twice as much PM2.5 as all road traffic

In the 00s, tax breaks encouraged drivers to buy diesel cars in the hope that their mileage efficiency would reduce overall carbon emissions. Today, diesel’s contribution to Europe’s dirty air is clear. Studies have shown that the climate boon didn’t pan out as expected.

“We have yet another stupid decision,” says Birkett. “In the same way they myopically pursued diesel, they have also myopically pursued wood burning.”

Just as many car makers until recently promoted diesel as clean and green, manufacturers of wood stoves and boilers tout their products as sustainable.

“Wood is one of the most environmentally friendly fuels that can be used,” boasts the Stove Industry Alliance. “Virtually carbon neutral.”

The reality is more complicated. For industrial-scale burning – in power plants such as Drax in North Yorkshire, for example – burning wood pellets shipped in from the US was found to be worse for the climate than coal.

For domestic boilers outside of the cities, the government actively encourages wood burning through the renewable heat incentive subsidy. (This does not apply to the smaller wood stoves favoured in cities.) Those systems may bring some carbon savings, but only if the trees are replaced with new ones, and even then, it takes decades for the emitted carbon to be reabsorbed – a critical gap given the urgent need to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The picture is further complicated by the sooty black carbon in wood smoke, which is itself a driver of climate change, although less well-understood than carbon dioxide.

“There’s lots of caveats,” says Crilley, who believes wood’s climate benefit only comes in “an ideal world which doesn’t exist”.

Patricia Thornley, a professor of sustainable energy at the University of Manchester, argues that wood has an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions from heat, because there are few good alternatives. But it’s not appropriate in city centres, she says.

If there is a benefit, it comes at a steep price. Particle pollution is closely correlated with mortality rates: higher levels equal more deaths. And particles can travel long distances: wood smoke from rural burning can affect the air in more densely populated places. Studies have found lower rates of death, and of heart and breathing problems, where domestic wood burning is limited.

Moreover, any climate gain is premised on wood replacing a fossil fuel such as gas – a swap that, in the case of stoves or fireplaces, often isn’t the case.

In cities, fires tend to be more of a lifestyle choice. “It’s the guy coming home from work and picking up a bottle of wine and some logs,” says Will Rolls, author of The Log Book. “You’re not competing against gas and oil, you’re competing against restaurants and cinemas.”

Adding to the danger is the reality that some owners use their stoves improperly, burning waste wood such as pallets, which often contains toxic chemicals, or using logs with high moisture content.

‘Engulfed in smoke’

In Stockport, Carolyn Beesley says her neighbour’s wood stove creates a smoky smell that lingers for hours and has exacerbated her asthma.

“I might have my washing out, I might be out in the garden enjoying the sunshine. I don’t want to be engulfed in that cloud of smoke,” Beesley said. “I’d expect it in the country, but I didn’t choose to live in the country.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in September for the power to ban solid fuel use (wood, coal and the like) in high-pollution areas of the city, starting in 2025, which would require amending the Clean Air Act.

Defra, which plans to release an air quality strategy for consultation later this year, has called for evidence on much more limited measures. The department said it would not ban domestic burning, or prevent the installation of wood stoves. It said it might take action on the use of insufficiently dried or seasoned wood, which produces more smoke, and was considering granting local authorities new powers to deal with persistent smoke offences.

To Meaden, it’s a familiar story. Years ago, she said, she accepted similar assurances about a different fuel being touted as climate-friendly, and bought a diesel car. “Everyone said it was the right thing to do.”

source ... -pollution
Bad Air Day – Is Wood Smoke Choking Out The PNW?

Romantically synonymous with warmth, nature and nocturnal bliss, the wood-burning fire has stoked human evolution for eons. But a series of air-quality studies spanning from Washington State to Vancouver Island are sounding a serious alarm.

When Clive Powsey moved from the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario, to Cumberland, British Columbia, he thought he was leaving his exercise-induced asthma behind for a “clean-air paradise.” On first whiff, it made sense. The small town sits between rainforest-covered mountains and the open waters of the Strait of Georgia. But by the first winter in his new home, Powsey was hacking worse than he ever had out east.

In the spring his lungs cleared up, but every fall the congestion returned. Thinking the wood stove in his studio was the culprit, he stopped using it. His asthma got worse. He started getting pneumonia. Then one fall he went to Vancouver for a week and his lungs cleared up. “I thought, ‘Oh my god. The air quality in Vancouver is better than Cumberland,’” he says. Powsey started looking for proof, and what he found is shocking. The air-clogging culprit is not some industrial polluter, in fact there aren’t any. Rather, it’s Powsey’s neighbours doing something that’s entwined in the island lifestyle and our DNA: burning firewood.

It’s not news that wood smoke is bad for human health. Health Canada says in towns where wood heating is common, chimney smoke contributes as much as 25 percent of airborne particulate matter, eight per cent of volatile organic compounds, seven per cent of carbon monoxide and is a significant contributor to smog. It contains dozens of toxic chemicals. The associated health impacts include lung disease, asthma attacks, acute bronchitis and respiratory infections. One fireplace burning 10 pounds of wood generates nearly as many carcinogenic chemicals as 3,000 packs of cigarettes, according to one US Environmental Protection Agency study.

The research is compelling, but proving pollution came from wood stoves is hard to do. And convincing neighbours is even harder. Just sit next to a fire and try not to stare. Fire places are awesome.

Several studies suggest humans have an instinctual fascination with flames dating back at least 200,000 years. A researcher at University of California, Los Anegeles found the interest is genetically tied to the need to learn to control flames, a valuable skill during most of our evolution. Sitting around a fire also lowers our blood pressure, according to a University of Alabama study, a sign that fire represented safety. “Collecting kindling, keeping the fire going, cooking: all these things required cooperation, at least when conditions were poor,” says Christopher Lynn, the main researcher. “Those groups more successful at keeping the fire going would have had an advantage over groups that didn’t.”

These days, fire’s value extends to tradition, romance and cozy images. And in a place like Cumberland, surrounded by working forests where loggers leave waste that a chainsaw can turn into free energy, wood heat seems greener and more economical. That might be true for residents that cut, split and season their own firewood. But crunch the local prices into an online calculator and you’ll find natural gas furnaces and electric heat pumps ring in cheaper than buying and burning wood. Both produce at least 99 percent less air pollution. Still, wood heat is nice. “I get it,” says Powsey. “I love the smell of wood smoke.”

But the smell clouding Cumberland on cool days is a sign that the air is full of micron-sized particles known in air pollution lingo as PM 2.5. With each breath—even inside his home where 50 to 70 per cent of particles slip through air filters—the tiny filaments were finding their way deep into Powsey’s lungs and making him sick.

Measurements taken 10 kilometres (six miles) away at Courtenay Elementary School since 2011 showed spring and summer air quality is good. However, come October and especially when there’s cold air trapped in the valley, the air quality failed to meet the federal standard both annually and on a regular basis. For instance, 21 of 76 days between November 2015 and January 2016 readings exceeded federal standards. Courtenay, British Columbia ranks in the top five worst communities in the province for air quality according to the BC Lung Association. When faced with the research, some residents argued there’s no proof wood heat was responsible. So Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, a citizens group, analyzed daily data and noticed a spike in particulate matter every afternoon and evening, just when residents fired up the wood stove. The most conclusive evidence comes from a University of Victoria study. In 2008 and 2009, researchers drove around the Comox Valley communities measuring air quality. They found the highest PM 2.5 readings within the oldest neighbourhoods of each town, including Cumberland—the exact places that burned the most wood and had the least efficient stoves.

“Calling the Comox Valley a fresh-air paradise couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Powsey. “But mostly this is a health issue. The most at risk are the infants and children, and this is a village of young people. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t raise a family here.”

But Powsey does have hope. A growing list of residents are joining the Breathe Clean group to lobby the valley’s various governments to adopt stricter wood-burning regulations, including eliminating backyard burning, educating residents on best burning practices and requiring more efficient wood stoves. The effort is modelled after similar by-laws already in place in Washington State and nearby Duncan and Port Alberni. Plus, many regional districts and towns have stove exchange programs. “Most people don’t even realize this is an issue,” says Powsey. “As soon as they do they want to do something about it. I think change is coming.”

source ... t-the-pnw/
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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