Are open fires and wood-burners bad for your health?

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Originally published at bhf.org.uk, written by Imogen Blake.

In fact, these are such popular activities that around one in 10 British homes feature an open fire or a wood-burning stove — a total of 2.7million residences.

Yet few people know that for every minute we spend warming ourselves by the fire, tiny toxic air pollution particles known as PM2.5 are being released into the air, causing harm to our health.

This is one of the most harmful forms of air pollution. In fact, our research has shown that PM2.5 can enter our bloodstream and increase our risk of a heart attack or stroke. But how?
BHF-funded researchers at the University of Edinburgh asked healthy volunteers to breathe in harmless gold nanoparticles the same size as the PM2.5 particles. They found that gold moved from the lungs into the blood and urine 24 hours after exposure.

Some gold could even be detected in the blood up to 3 months after exposure. The researchers also looked at where the nanoparticles build up around the body, and found them in the fatty plaques of diseased arteries.

In the UK, the single biggest source of this type of air pollution is domestic coal and wood-burning, which accounts for almost 40 per cent of the UK’s background levels of PM2.5.

This presents a major public health challenge.

The Government has announced a phase-out of the two most polluting fuels — coal and wet wood. This is a good start and will raise awareness of the ways to reduce air pollution’s harmful health effects.

However, at the BHF, we believe that this action should be supported by ambitious and far-reaching legislation that tackles air pollution from all its sources.

The Environment Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, provides a golden opportunity to be bolder, more ambitious and a world leader on this issue. While the current Bill sets out promising commitments to improve the air we all breathe, it could be further strengthened.

The UK has the opportunity to become one of the first countries to adopt the World Health Organization (WHO)’s guideline limits on air pollution to be met by 2030 — something that’s not made it into the current Bill. Unlike the less stringent EU limits we currently subscribe to, these are based on a vast body of health evidence.

Let’s go further and faster

British governments have a long and proud tradition of enacting bold public health legislation that can drastically improve people’s lives.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 — proposed after the devastating Great Smog of London — was a good example of this. More recently, the Labour Government’s 2007 smoking ban not only cleaned up restaurants and bars in England and Wales but protected the health of millions of people from harmful second-hand smoke.

It is action at this pace and scale that we urgently need to see from today’s Government.

The decision to restrict the burning of certain fuels is a welcome move, butthe Environment Bill provides a once-in-a-generation chance to go further and improve the health of millions of lives for decades to come.

The Government must seize this opportunity while it can to clean up our toxic air for good.

Write to your MP

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Originally published at https://www.bhf.org.uk.


Are open fires and wood-burners bad for your health? was originally published in British Heart Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.