Air pollution caused by the popular stoves is linked to cancer, diabetes and asthma

Could your wood burner KILL you? Air pollution caused by the popular stoves is linked to cancer, diabetes and asthma

  • Wood burning stoves release a ‘significant’ number of polluting particles
  • Nearly 10 per cent of wintertime pollution in London is from wood burning 
  • Emissions from factories, power plants and diesel also contribute to levels 
  • Dangers revealed in report which calls for action to prevent early deaths

Wood burners are emitting pollutants that are contributing to a health crisis killing 40,000 people a year.

The popular stoves release a ‘significant’ number of polluting particles, which can be linked to diseases including asthma, cancer and diabetes, according to a landmark report.

In London, nearly 10 per cent of wintertime particle pollution comes from wood burning – including fires – with the fumes also leaking into neighbouring properties.

The danger was revealed in a 106-page report by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which warns around 40,000 people in Britain die early each year because of outdoor air pollution.

Emissions from factories, power plants and diesel also contribute largely to levels of air pollution, the report claims.

The damage from air pollution is said to occur from as early as a baby’s first weeks in the womb and is particularly worrying during infancy, when the body is vulnerable. Older people can also be significantly affected.

Experts at the University of Southampton and Queen Mary University of London, who wrote the report, admitted wood burning is a ‘concern’ when it came to future energy demands.

They wrote: ‘[Wood burning in fires and stoves] liberates significant amounts of particulate pollution into the outdoor air.’

Demand for the stoves, which cost between £400 and £7,000, has tripled in the last five years – partly down to the savings they can make to energy bills.

Using wood as a heat sources only costs around 2.5p per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in comparison to gas, which costs 4p, and electricity, which is almost five times more at 11p per kWh.

They are also seen as environmentally friendly as the carbon dioxide released by the stoves is taken up by young trees.

But the report’s authors warned the trend may be worse than gas heating when it comes to air quality and urged buyers to be cautious.

They added: ‘We must… be cautious before consigning solid fuel burning to history.

‘The increasing popularity of wood burning for heating, in part due to policies to reduce CO2 emissions, risks undoing some of the air quality improvements that have resulted from widespread adoption of gas for domestic heating.’

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, Head of Environmental Change at Public Health England, said: ‘Indoor air is affected by outdoor air pollution and by indoor sources such as tobacco smoke, scented candles and other household products.

‘Further research is needed into how people are exposed to different sources of household air pollution to quantify its effect on health.’

Lord Drayson, former minister of science, added that people needed to work together to beat the ‘invisible killer’.

He said: ‘The recent report shows the serious damage that air pollution is having on people’s health and highlights that it is not just street level pollution that is the issue, but also the air in our homes, offices and schools.

‘The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are right in their recommendations – we need to act now to promote active travel options like walking and cycling, provide better education on the health impacts of air pollution and deploy better monitoring technology.’

The report also revealed that levels of air pollution are above legal limits in 25 cities, including Oxford.

Its authors, who suggest opening a window for a few minutes a day to help improve indoor air pollution, are now calling for individuals as well as European, national and local governments to address the issue, which they say has been overlooked.

They conclude: ‘Taking action will reduce pain, suffering and demands on the NHS, while getting people back to work, learning and an active life.

‘The value of these benefits far exceeds the cost of reducing emissions.’


The report, which was released as a call to action for governments and individuals to improve both outdoor and indoor air pollution, also suggests diesel emissions are contributing to the health crisis. 

Ownership of diesel cars has more than trebled in the past 15 years – driven by misguided government tax incentives that identified diesel as a ‘green’ fuel.

Authors of the report suggest the increase in diesel cars could reverse other positive steps the country has taken to reduce air pollution.

They said: ‘In 2000, just 14 per cent of new cars were diesel powered, but today this figure has risen to 50 per cent, and almost all light goods vehicles and vans are now powered by diesel.

‘The increasing popularity of diesel vehicles can undo the positive benefits from other policies to decrease air pollution.’