‘THERE are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’
Consumers should bear this old saying in mind when it comes to studying a statistic about woodburners announced by TV presenter and broadcast journalist Joe Crowley on the BBC The One Show on Wednesday (March 27), which no doubt he declared in good faith. During the show, Mr Crowley talked about the health implications of air pollution.
He said: “Wood burning stoves, which are really popular, and are really trendy. I’m sorry to say it but actually a really efficient wood burning stove can release the same particulate matter as 18 (one eight) new diesel cars. I mean, that is just staggering. Think about what you’re doing to your street when you light your wood burning stove. That’s not a popular thing to say but it’s really, really not good for people’s health, yeah.”
Lawson Wight from the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps said: “It may come as a surprise to the BBC and to Joe Crowley and even to you, that air quality in the UK is the best it has been since records began in the 1970’s. That’s right – air quality in the UK is better now than the last 50 years! You could be forgiven for thinking everything is getting worse but that’s modern media for you. You don’t have to believe me – you can see for yourself in the easy to read government Emissions of Air Pollutants which charts national pollution statistics over the last 49 years. We will cover some information from the emissions report later in this article. Meantime, back to ‘The One Show’ claims.”
Mr Crowley’s factual base is likely to come from a book, ‘Invisible Killer – The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution And How We Can Fight Back’ by Gary Fuller, published last November, 2018.
Dr Fuller believes wood burning stoves should become socially unacceptable to stop air pollution and it’s likely to be from his book, that Mr Crowley gets his info comparing diesel cars to woodburners.
Nevertheless, the same book also acknowledged that most modern stoves and wood-pellet burners produce less than a fifth of the particle pollution that comes from an open fire. Written before the publication of the Defra Clean Air Strategy in January, the book also says that “upgrading from open fireplaces to modern wood burners should reduce air pollution at a stroke.”
Dr Fuller also says that the ‘biggest factor’ is ‘the person who lights the fire and the skills with which he or she does so’ – adding, ‘what you burn matters, too’.
“Scientific opinion always needs to be respected,” comments Lawson Wight, Chairman of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps. “And that includes not just an authority such as Dr Fuller but the scientific studies conducted by Defra in its recently published air strategy.
“The strategy publicly supports the BurnRight campaign promoted by chimney sweeps and associations, and states factually, that proper use of woodburners and regular chimney sweeping is to be encouraged to help the environment.
“It is extremely disappointing that the BBC The One Show grabbed this comparison of pollution between diesel engines and a woodburner, without studying the issue in more depth and better informing viewers of the show. Defra supports the proper use of woodburners and there was no mention of that in the programme.
“Defra now state “Consumers can take action by buying the most efficient stove and regularly servicing their appliance. The BurnRight website has lots of helpful tips on how to minimise the impact of burning on air quality, as can your local chimney sweep during their regular visit. Householders can also swap their supply of traditional house coal to a cleaner alternative.”
There’s always another side to any story. Defra has recently published the national statistics for main air pollutants. This graph shows a staggering decrease in the total annual emissions of particulate matter pollution in the last 40+ years (a drop of 73 per cent of PM10 since 1970 and a drop of 79 per cent of PM2.5 in the same time period). The figure has been ‘fairly static in recent years’, according to Defra, but, emissions of the most damaging particulate matter pollution (pm 2.5) reached a historical low in 2017.
Lawson Wight asks: “So why all the fuss if particulates are lower than ever? – well, pollution is still bad for us and we need to reduce it further. Luckily there are some very simple and very effective solutions coming from the solid fuel industry. The trade has really stepped up with solutions like the BurnRight consumer awareness campaign . Consumers are really just starting to discover what a difference it makes when they get a few simple things right. If enough people are aware of the solutions, the problem can be quickly solved. In addition, the woodburners are becoming much more efficient and over time, people will swap their old stove or open fire for a much cleaner burning model.
“The ‘Ready to Burn’ mark on wood fuel is also helpful for consumers when it comes to buying dry wood for immediate use. Given all this I see a very bright future for the solid fuel industry as more and more consumers ‘Get it Right’, after all, We all Breathe the Same Air.”
“Viewers of BBC The One Show have a right to know these truths,” observed Lawson. “The joint approach between Government authorities and chimney professionals, together with ongoing education of the public will make a really big difference to a problem that has been reducing for many years. It’s very rewarding to be able to help speed up this process.”