From next year, sales of the most polluting domestic fuels, coal and wet wood, will be phased out in England. What will this mean for households, the environment and the traditional roaring open fire?
Everyone knows coal, but what is wet wood?As the name suggests, this is a type of fuel – usually in the form of undried fuel logs – with a moisture content of at least 20% that is burned in stoves and fireplaces. Also known as green or unseasoned wood, it is cheap and widely available in DIY or garden centres, where it is usually sold in sacks or nets. An estimated 2.5m homes in the UK rely on this or coal for heating.
Why is the government stopping sales of it?The moisture in the wood is a vector for pollutants that can cause breathing problems, heart ailments and lung cancer. When burned, damp wood produces more smoke than dry logs. This includes tiny particulates known as PM2.5 that are more harmful than bigger flakes of soot because they can penetrate deep into the respiratory system and bloodstream. Government figures show coal and wet wood is responsible for 38% of PM2.5 pollution in the UK, three times as much as road transport.
Why now?Action is long overdue. Even in London, which has had smoke control areas for more than 60 years, wood burning accounts for up to 31% of PM2.5, according to a study by King’s College. The mayor’s office says almost 8 million residents of the city live in places where this form of air pollution exceeds World Health Organization guidelines by at least 50%. At least a dozen other towns and cities, including Scunthorpe, Manchester, Swansea and Gillingham, have even higher levels of pollution.
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