Worst London air pollution in six years as home fires burn

(The Guardian, 27 Jan 2023) Wood fires produce more particle pollution than traffic exhausts in UK, and controls remain ineffective.

Last weekend, air pollution in London reached the top value of 10 on the UK government’s index. Greatest concentrations were measured in the southwestern suburbs. This was London’s worst air pollution since January 2017.

These short episodes of air pollution have an impact. A five-year study of 1.2 million Londoners published in 2021 found a rise in GP respiratory consultations and inhaler prescriptions after short increases in air pollution. This was more pronounced in children and persisted for at least a week.

Home wood burning played a large role in the pollution peaks last weekend, according to data from Imperial College London on the chemical composition of the particle pollution in London, especially during the evenings. Analysis of the soot particles that Londoners were breathing showed that between 60% and 70% came from wood or solid fuel heating. Averaged over the whole year, home fires in the UK produce more particle pollution than the exhaust of all traffic on our roads.

And yet enforcement and control remains ineffective. Dr James Heydon, of the University of Nottingham, has been researching the way in which the legal controls on home fires have failed to address this problem. These laws include smoke control areas (SCAs) or smokeless zones that were devised in the 1950s and cover most UK cities. In these areas, people who burn solid fuel have to use a certified appliance or burn smokeless fuel. In an SCA, burning wood on an open fire is illegal.

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The Guardian, 27 Jan 2023: Worst London air pollution in six years as home fires burn