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Wood Burning Fad Blamed For Urban Air Pollution

David Sanderson, The Times

The gathering of discarded timber in urban areas for fashionable wood-burning stoves and an ignorance of fire techniques is contributing to Britain’s air pollution crisis, it has been claimed.

People living in cities who grew up with gas-fired central heating but have now turned to “cosy” wood-burning stoves need to be educated on the use of appropriate wood, academics and industry leaders say.

Their warning comes after Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said that the capital’s “filthy air”, which on Monday exceeded the pollution levels of Beijing, was creating a health crisis.

Previous studies have suggested that levels of particulate pollution surge at weekends as people light up stoves.

More than 180,000 wood-burning stoves were sold last year and 220,000 the year before, helped by the government’s promotion of wood as a “clean green” fuel and the exemption of approved stoves from “smoke control areas”.

Stove owners are advised to use hard woods that have been seasoned for at least one year to reduce the moisture content. Wet wood needs more burning and creates more soot and particles. The Stove Industry Alliance said that an estimated 22 per cent of wood-burning stove owners used unseasoned wood. Dennis Milligan, of the alliance, said that it was working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to educate people about proper techniques. “In London the average use of a stove is seven hours a week while the national average is 22 hours. There is a feeling that in London it is more of a fashion item,” Mr Milligan said.

John Holloway, a professor at the University of Southampton who worked on a report last year into air pollution, said that “it would seem sensible” for stove owners to be educated on burning techniques and materials. The “law of unintended consequences” applied to the government’s promotion of wood burning. “There was encouragement of diesel cars to reduce CO2 emissions but the consequences were more particulate pollution,” he said. “People switched to renewable fuel sources like wood and the consequences of that are to generate more air pollution.”

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