Christmas Burning

At this time of year, we are surrounded by images of roaring fires, with stockings of presents hanging, or chestnuts roasting. These pictures are compelling and may evoke a sensory memory that can include smells of citrus, cinnamon and even wood smoke.

Many of us have been bathed in these romantic images from childhood and even in far-flung and sunny parts of the world Christmas cards are still decorated with pictures showing roaring fires and out-of-season treats.

Across London people who usually rely on central heating will be thinking of buying logs, or other solid fuels to recreate these scenes and revisit a shared, or imagined, past. When attempting to create a warm and inviting house for family and friends it is easy to forget the burning reality. Open fires and wood burning stoves produce particulate pollution and the smaller of these particles, usually referred to as PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres) can cause asthma, strokes, coronary heart disease and lung cancer when inhaled. Domestic solid fuel burning contributes significantly to  PM2.5 pollution in London and is concentrated in the winter months.

If any of your family, friends, or neighbours experience asthma, or other lung conditions, these may be triggered or exacerbated by smoke indoors or outdoors.

The sale of wood is regulated, and any wood sold in England must be labelled Ready to Burn. Buying wood is usually more expensive per kWh than gas central heating, even when bought in a large volume. The smaller bags of wood sold in supermarkets or service station forecourts are a lot more expensive.

Most London boroughs are covered by smoke control areas and if you live in a smoke control area can only burn authorised fuels unless you use a Defra exempt appliance. In either case you must not emit smoke from a chimney. You can find out here if you live in a smoke control area. If you have an open fire at home, you can only burn authorised fuels and wood is not one of them. There are some wood burning stoves that are listed as exempt appliances by Defra and you can burn the type of fuel directed by the manufacturer in this, such as kiln dried logs. Even exempt appliances and authorised fuels produce health damaging PM2.5 air pollution.

If you are thinking of burning wood at home this Christmas, please consider the health of your family, guests, and neighbours and if you are visiting a household that uses a fire or wood burning stove you may be able to inform, or remind them, of their obligations, both under the Clean Air Act, and as a good host. They may not realise the impacts that they are having on the health of those around them.

In summary, the health impacts of solid fuel burning can be for life, not just for Christmas.

Member London Boroughs