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Wood burners ‘worse than cars’ for contaminating air

September 2, 2015

h/t Jim Climie






The wood stove, so beloved by greenies because it will save us all from global warming! The government is even throwing millions of pounds in subsidies at them to encourage us to have them installed.


Unfortunately their new found popularity has meant that more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution, with the resultant impact on our forests.


Now it appears that they are not as good for us as we were led to believe:





It is not Scotland’s three million vehicles that are contaminating the air we breathe but the soaring number of wood-burning stoves, the government has been warned.

Ministers put their low-emission strategy out to consultation in January but have ended up with an unexpected response from the Australian Air Quality Group (AAQG).


It should not really come as any surprise, as this report in the Australian revealed two years ago:


REDUCING the use of wood-burning stoves in Launceston led to a sharp fall in deaths from respiratory diseases and heart failure, a study published today says.

The paper, published by the British Medical Journal, highlights the pollution risks from inefficient biomass burning, used by billions of people for heating and cooking.

University of Tasmania researchers looked at what happened when the city implemented a scheme to reduce pollution from wood smoke.

It launched a campaign to educate residents about the risks of smoke from wood-burning stoves and offered help to replace these with electric ones.

From 2001 to 2004, the number of households that used wood-burning stoves fell from 66 to 30 per cent. Atmospheric pollution from air particulates during winter fell by 40 per cent.

Deaths among men fell by 11.4 per cent, particularly from cardiovascular causes, which saw a decline of 17.9 per cent, and from respiratory causes, which retreated by 22.8 per cent.

There was no statistically significant fall among women, a question that was not addressed by the study.

"It does tell us that improving the air quality improves death rates,” said Fay Johnston, a GP and environmental epidemiologist at Menzies Research Institute Tasmania who led the study..

"Death through air pollution is the tip of the iceberg.”

The mortality figures derive from a 6 1/2 year comparison between Launceston with Hobart, the capital city, which did not have any air-quality interventions.

Tasmania, the southern-most state, has a climate that is usually colder and wetter than the rest of the country.

Wood-burning stoves to heat homes became popular in Tasmania during the 1980s and 1990s, eventually causing pollution problems in Launceston, a city of 67,000 people, which is located in a river valley where haze accumulated, according to the study.

The problems of biomass pollution are well known, but there is a big gap in scientific evidence about the effectiveness of smoke-reducing schemes, said the study.

Only a few studies have ever been carried out to explore the impact of air-quality interventions.




Still, at least the polar bears will be happy!

  1. September 2, 2015 11:27 am

    It depends on what stove you get. I live in a smoke controlled area where only 3 stoves are approved to be installed – the one I have actually burns the smoke generated so very little is emitted – far less than the smoky oil-fired boiler I have in my other house.
    I also have a ready supply of free firewood, accumulated from endless pollarding jobs in my local area. It is a win-win

    • Matthew permalink
      September 5, 2015 3:22 am

      Nope. Your so called clean stove isn’t as clean as you believe. You will be polluting your neighbourhood and ambient air quality will be worse off. Real world emissions from “low emission” woodburners average over 9 grams of PM2.5s per kg of fuel. Yes there is variation, but even at the lowest end at 2 grams of PM2.5s per kg of fuel, it is still about 1000 times too dirty to be used in any residential neighborhood.

  2. September 2, 2015 12:39 pm

    My MORSO woodstove is pretty efficient. If we get fracking and gas prices come down I wouldn’t mind using the central heating more though.

    What I won’t do is sit in the freezing cold because enviroloons don’t want me to use either heat source.

    • September 2, 2015 1:13 pm

      Likewise. I invested over two grand on the wood burner (way before this subsidy programme) simply because gas and electric prices are so high – and the wood is free. Carefully managed woodland with pollarding programmes is self-sustaining but, partly due to government cuts over the years, a lot of woodland has been left to overgrow, meaning that some trees are now so big severely pollarding them can kill them. City of London Corporation are only slowly starting to get Epping Forest back into shape – but it is a process that will take decades.

      Scott (qualified to Level 3 in Forestry and Arboriculture)

      • Matthew permalink
        September 5, 2015 3:23 am

        And stuff the people you are poisoning? Thanks for caring.

    • September 2, 2015 1:24 pm

      It’s not green to burn wood!! Great – we can start using it again.

      • September 2, 2015 1:26 pm

        It’s not green to burn coal or oil. What do you suggest we do to keep warm – all get exercise bikes?

    • BLACK PEARL permalink
      September 2, 2015 3:51 pm

      Well its only fair with all that polluting, you should be paying a Wood Tax at the same level I pay for my two older vehicles 🙂

    • J Martin permalink
      September 2, 2015 7:17 pm

  3. Kon Dealer permalink
    September 2, 2015 12:54 pm

    Someone remind me what the “Clean Air Act” was for?

    • September 2, 2015 1:25 pm

      Scrunch it up and it’s really good for starting fires.

      • AZ1971 permalink
        September 2, 2015 3:52 pm

        Or perhaps a hat, or a broach, or pterodactyl, or ….

        At least that’s what Johnny told me anyway.

    • Joe Public permalink
      September 2, 2015 3:47 pm

      “Someone remind me what the “Clean Air Act” was for?”

      So that every time the Beeb publishes a backlit image of dark emissions from a UK flue, they can be castigated for misleading the public, because the CAA prohibits the emission of visible particulates.

  4. September 2, 2015 1:50 pm

    But wood is renewable, so it’s OK.

    • September 2, 2015 4:49 pm

      Yes, in the same way that lions are renewable, so its OK to hunt them.

    • Matthew permalink
      September 5, 2015 3:25 am

      Black carbon emissions and methane mean that burning wood is a powerful greenhouse forcer too. Add that to the serious health effects and deaths caused by woodsmoke, not too mention how annoying woodsmoke is, and full prohibition is warranted.

      • September 5, 2015 11:14 am

        Full prohibiton is needed on many diesel cars. See my earlier reply.

        What do you think is the best solution for heating homes?

      • September 5, 2015 5:08 pm

        Good thing coal fired power plants emit almost no black carbon.

      • Matthew permalink
        September 5, 2015 7:43 pm

        The general consensus in Australia at least is that the cheapest form of heating is electric heatpumps. Burning wood is only cheaper when you source the wood for free (and ignore all the externalised costs – the average suburban woodstove in Sydney costs the community $2400 annually just in externalised health costs).

        Do all the heavy curtains, insulation, double glazing, warm socks, first and then go electric. Natural gas is clean at lest where you burn it. Fuel oil is marginal. Coal and wood (inc. pellets) are too polluting to even be considered.

      • September 5, 2015 8:12 pm

        I’ve done all that and the missus is still cold :). Seriously though Defra have some explaining to do by recommended a ‘clean’ stove.
        Another thing I wonder on is what does one do who lives in an area that had very unreliable electricity? My sister, who runs an oil fired boiler where she lives in rural Essex has frequent power cuts. The only thing that will work in these situations is her wood stove. If the lights ever do ‘go out’ in urban areas this problem will only increase.

  5. John Smith permalink
    September 2, 2015 2:34 pm

    Not entirely sure that wood burning stoves are the main problem. Here on the edge of the Eskdalemuir Forest, hundreds of trucks are carrying the forest off to a wood burning power station at Lockerbie. How green is that.

    • September 23, 2015 11:51 pm

      A lot “greener” than burning it in a wood domestic stove!!! Power stations use high temperature burning so there’s no methane emissions and any black carbon that escapes the burning process should be trapped by the particle filters.

      By contrast the methane and black carbon from domestic stoves is so bad for the climate that the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization recommended phasing out log-burning stoves in developed countries to reduce global warming as well as improve health. More info: woodsmoke .3sc .net/greenhouse

  6. John F. Hultquist permalink
    September 2, 2015 3:42 pm

    We bought our home (central Washington State, USA) with a 1980s wood burning stove – in an all (that’s 100%) electric house. Hydropower is inexpensive from the Columbia River.
    We did use that stove for supplemental heat for a couple of years. It is messy and inefficient. The State of Washington has been implementing clean air laws and now restricts use of such stoves. We do need an emergency source of heat if the power goes off in a cold winter.
    We have about 7 acres of trees – not high quality for firewood – but it is free after I cut, split, and stack it. The climate is sufficiently dry that wood can sit for 100 years without decaying – sort of like sequestering the carbon.

    From the text:
    It . . . offered help to replace these with electric ones”.

    And there’s the rub: I need non-electric backup.

    We are just now installing a new wood-burning stove rated by the US-EPA as one of the most efficient and least polluting stoves in North America. The company is located in nearby Walla Walla – Blaze King Industries. Others companies now have similar technology.

  7. September 2, 2015 8:05 pm

    Wood is chemically ~80% water [CnH2nOn] which has to be ‘boiled off’ before the carbon can actually burn (as anyone making fudge or toffee will have experienced). Coal has had nearly all the water long since removed. Brown coal however is not much better than wood.

    • September 3, 2015 3:28 pm

      Stored dry wood has around a 12% moisture content, to point out the obvious, it has to be stored in a dry warm location to be a useful fuel.

      Nobody burns wet wood, even the greenest home user will buy broken pallets before green lumber.

    • Matthew permalink
      September 5, 2015 7:39 pm

      Many pallets have been treated with halogens for quarantine reasons, such as dimethyl bromide and other chemicals such as fire retardants, insecticides and fungicides and burning them makes dioxins which are highly toxic and persistent pollutants. Don’t burn pallets.(Or any other wood)

  8. S Allnutt permalink
    September 2, 2015 8:10 pm

    We burn wood at home on a horribly inefficient fire but have a great Rumford fire in the house we rent out. The Rumford is not quite as clean as the best stoves but has no glass to get dirty and throws out the radiation. Brilliant two hundred years old design.

  9. September 3, 2015 6:08 am

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a wood-burning stove used correctly in the right location. I have no near neighbours who can be affected and I source and dry all my wood for a minimum of 3years. I also always operate it at a high temperature, so producing minimal smoke and fumes and I never need the chimney sweeping.

  10. David in Kent permalink
    September 3, 2015 9:16 am

    My woodstove is claimed to be 85% efficient and I should have thought that compares well with electricity given the large losses in generation and transmission. My gas central heating is significantly better however though I don’t find sitting round a radiator very cosy.

  11. johnmarshall permalink
    September 3, 2015 11:29 am

    Had a log burner for 40years but only because we live in the country and trees are easily available. I cut them down, log and cart home, easy.

  12. Matthew permalink
    September 5, 2015 12:48 am

    “Now it appears that they are not as good for us as we were led to believe”

    That should be reworded “misled to believe”

    Promoting woodburning as green, or eco or environmentally friendly is a massive consumer fraud being perpetuatied out of people who profit out of the pollution.

    Woodsmoke is carcinogenic and cardiotoxic. We should treat it like asbestos. It just shouldn’t be breathed by anyone, ever. Full prohibition is urgently needed.

  13. AndyG55 permalink
    September 5, 2015 11:02 am

    The major problem with wood burners is WHEN they are used.

    Invariably in winter, those cold clear nights, when adiabatic inversions occur…

    ..trapping the smoke and particulate matter with the water vapour… SMOG !!

    Not good for the sinuses or the lungs.

    Thing is, that what happens when you increase electricity prices due to subsidies etc for inefficient irregular power systems, people start burning wood again..

    Places like the UK got rid of their smog by using out of town coal-fired power stations…

    .. but that smog is now destined to return.

    STUPIDITY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • September 5, 2015 11:16 am

      To be honest I light mine more on wild, wet and windy nights – when the wind literally sucks the heat from the building. The house is warmest on cold, still nights – and I often don’t even have the conventional heating on

      • AndyG55 permalink
        September 5, 2015 11:19 am

        I used to live in a very cold valley near Canberra.. (ACT, Australia)

        Winter was all about smoke filled adiabatic inversions!

      • September 5, 2015 11:53 am

        At school, many years ago, I remember learning about fruit production. Growers would purposely set fires when a heavy frost was likely, for the smoke to insulate delicate flowers. I’m not sure they do this anymore?

      • Matthew permalink
        September 5, 2015 7:45 pm

        I guess they didn’t worry about smoke taint on fruit. In Australia after bushfires vineyards can’t sell their grapes if they have even a hint of smoke. as it ruins the wine.

  14. dennisambler permalink
    September 6, 2015 9:09 am

    “It does tell us that improving the air quality improves death rates,” said Fay Johnston”

    It would have been better if she had said “reduces death rates”.

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