Published: Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Oxford City Council is launching a new campaign to tackle the health and environmental harms of using wood burning stoves.

Under the banner ‘Do You Fuel Good?’ the campaign aims to educate and inform anyone who uses wood burning stoves and open fireplaces on the harms they cause, and inform them of ways to reduce their negative impacts on human health and the environment.

The campaign aims to highlight that:

  • In Oxford city, 66% of all local fine particulates (PM2.5) come from domestic heating, compared with only 21% coming from transport. This includes the use of gas heating and cookers as well as solid fuel stoves.
  • Particulates can have a serious impact on human health. It is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and those with illnesses or conditions such as asthma and emphysema.
  • In 2019, 5.52% of all deaths in people in Oxford aged 30+ occur due to long-term exposure to particulates (PM2.5)1
  • For some people, wood stoves are the only option for heating their home. However, for most homes in Oxford, there is a cleaner, safer alternative.

The campaign will provide information for people who use wood burning in addition to central heating, and those who rely entirely on wood stoves for heating, in order to encourage best behaviour.

The campaign is part of £45,000 of funding from the Government’s Air Quality Grant to raise awareness of Particulate Matter (PM) emissions, also known as particulate pollution. Launched in partnership with Oxford Friends of the Earth and the Canal & River Trust, the campaign aims to help people make better choices around domestic wood burning.

Many residents can make a quick impact on the level of particulate pollution by cutting their use of wood burners or by ensuring they are used better. The first part of the campaign is aimed at people who use wood burners in addition to central heating. The objective is to inform these people on the type of pollution that wood burners cause, and why it is important to consider changing to cleaner heating alternatives.

The second part of the campaign aims to provide information to all those that rely entirely on wood stoves for heating, to raise awareness of the health impacts associated with exposure to these emissions, as well as providing advice on how they can use their wood burning stove more cleanly and efficiently. This will include knowing what trademark to look for on quality assured fuels, planning to reduce how often and how long they use the stove for, and knowing how to be fuel efficient and clean.

With the recent rise in energy prices, more people are looking at alternatives to central heating. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) has reported a 40% increase in wood burning stove sales compared to the same period last year.

While wood burning stoves can provide a cheaper alternative to gas or electric heating, domestic wood burning has also been found to triple the effect of harmful pollution particles inside your home. Particulate pollution has been found to make airways inflamed, bring on asthma symptoms and in the long-term can increase the risk of heart and respiratory disease.

Oxford also has 23 active smoke control areas. Within these areas it is an offence to emit a substantial amount of smoke from a chimney of a building, from a furnace or from any fixed boiler. Local authorities have powers to take enforcement action, if a smoke emission is considered to be substantial.

In January 2021, Oxford City Council approved an air quality action plan for the city for 2021-2025. The action plan recognises for the first time the issues with wood burning and introduces specific measures to deal with wood smoke emissions.

The plan includes the commitment to deliver a city-wide campaign on how to implement DEFRA’s best practice on the use of open fires and wood burning stoves, and on how to reduce burning of inappropriate fuel.

The project also supports the Council’s ambition to achieve a Zero Carbon Oxford by 2040 or earlier, ten years ahead of the Government’s 2050 deadline.

“Many people are aware of the health impacts of outdoor air pollution; however, it is equally as important to consider indoor pollution which may be impacting your health and those around you. For people who have heating options, we want to encourage them to think of other ways to make the home cosy. For people with no other choice but to use a wood burner, we want to ensure they are doing so safely and are using the right fuels.”

Councillor Imogen Thomas, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford and Climate Justice, Oxford City Council

“Oxford continues to have unsafe levels of air pollution. Particles released by wood burning are part of the problem we face.  It’s in everyone’s interest to have healthy air in our homes and across the city. We support this campaign and encourage anyone with wood burners to use them only when necessary”.

Chris Church, Oxford Friends of the Earth

“The effects of air pollution are real, and there is no safe level of air pollution. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that 40,000 people die early each year in UK due to the effects of air pollution, and the majority of these deaths are caused by PM2.5 particulates. Particulates from wood burners in urban areas are problematic, contribute to poor air quality, and have long term repercussions for our health.

“In my work I particularly look after people in Oxfordshire with asthma. We all know that air pollution can be a trigger for asthma attacks, and these attacks are terrifying and can be serious. However, air pollution doesn’t just affect people with asthma. We now know that for any of us it accelerates decline in lung function, increases type II diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and even the cognitive decline in later life. Many people are aware of the link between transport emissions and air pollution, however it’s just as important to consider the link with wood burning stoves.”

Timothy SC Hinks, Associate Professor in Respiratory Medicine, University of Oxford

More information can be found on the 'Do You Fuel Good?' webpages.

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