In response to the recent headlines, the SIA set about investigating the data to see if negative rhetoric around pollution from wood burning in modern Ecodesign stoves was justified.
Spoiler alert, the answer is a definitive no, but please read on to see for yourself.
Monitoring London’s air quality
London has been at the centre of the controversy and as it is monitored extensively for air quality, with information readily available, it is an ideal place to focus investigations. The London Air website, a platform run by Imperial College London, holds data from no less than 131 monitoring sites located across the capital.
You can look at the data for each site using the drop-down boxes within the monitoring section of the website. It allows you to select air pollutants, including PM2.5 and PM10 particulates, and display the data for each.
Below is a summary of the results presented by the SIA’s communications manager, Erica Malkin:
-PM2.5 (tiny particles caused by things like construction, road traffic, aviation and shipping, agriculture, domestic and commercial combustion, outdoor burning, and wildfires) values in 2022 at every London monitoring site that has information for last year (22 in total) were below the current UK legal limit of 20ug/m3 annual mean, without exception.
-For 2023 year to date, 41 out of 42 sites record levels below the UK legal limit, with the average being 13 ug/m3.
-7 out of the 42 sites monitoring PM2.5 record 2023 YTD levels as falling within the much lower previous WHO recommended limit of 10 ug/m3 annual mean.
-In 2022 the average PM2.5 level recorded across all sites was 10 ug/m3 which means London met the WHO recommended limit (at that time) last year.
-For PM10 there is not a single monitoring site showing levels this year or last that exceed the current UK limit of 40 ug/m3 and, again, many are within the WHO recommended limit which is HALF the current UK limit at 20 ug/m3.
Looking beyond the headlines
As you can see, these results paint a very different picture than what is being published by the media. In fact, you’d struggle to find a single newspaper with even the slightest reporting on this positive news.
However, it is much easier to find hyperbolic news articles that continue to muddy the water by using the catch-all term “wood burners” instead of analysing the data in depth and acknowledging the fundamental differences between open fires, older stoves and modern ultra-efficient stoves.
If the media could only communicate this distinction between the different forms of wood-burning, they would achieve so much more in the pursuit of reducing overall PM2.5 emissions.
Erica Malkin rightly observes:
“What is becoming increasingly clear from the data, is that it is “modern, technically advanced stoves, coupled with effective stove user education, Smoke Control Area enforcement and industry regulation, that are the key to helping us do better and reduce air pollution linked to indoor domestic combustion.”
“The Environmental Improvement Plan points out, it is vital that we “Design and implement measures to drive a shift away from older, more polluting appliances, to newer appliances which meet our tough new emission standards.”
We can all do our part in reducing emissions by replacing an open fire or older closed stove with a clearSkies 5 certified stove (the most advanced currently available). In conjunction with wood-burning best practices, they can drastically reduce emissions from this sector by up to 90%!
It is essential that we examine air quality monitoring data rather than attention-grabbing headlines. This is the only way to ensure that statistical information is presented in an unbiased manner to provide the accurate information required to make sensible decisions that benefit society.