Leading article

The threat to health from air pollution must be taken seriously

Although England has introduced a ban on polluting fuels used in wood burning stoves and open fires, it seems that these measures are unlikely to be extended to Northern Ireland.

Wood burning stoves, in particular, have become more popular in recent years while traditional open fires are used in many homes across the north.

But while standard coal has long been recognised as a problem in terms of the smoke it produces, many people may be surprised to learn that the wood burner in their living rooms may be making a significant contribution to air pollution.

According to the department of the environment in England (Defra), wood burning stoves and coal fires are the single largest source of PM2.5, more than three times greater than the pollution from road transport.

PM2.5 is a tiny particle pollutant which can penetrate deep into the lungs and the blood and cause serious health problems.

Sales of the two most polluting fuels - house coal and wet wood - will be phased out from 2021 to 2023 in a bid to reduce air pollution in England.

This is to give householders and suppliers time to use up stocks and move to cleaner alternatives such as dry wood and manufactured solid fuels which need to have a very low sulphur content and only emit a small amount of smoke.

Similar proposals are being considered in Scotland and Wales but there are no current plans for Northern Ireland to introduce a ban on the sale of coal and wet wood.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) says it has been working on developing a clean air strategy which is likely to go out for public consultation later this year, following clearance by the executive.

The threat to health from air pollution, should it come from domestic stoves and fires, heavy traffic or industrial processes, must be taken seriously.

We should be striving to make our air quality as good as it can be and must hope that the proposals under consideration make a real difference to the air that we breathe.

Even without legislation, householders can make a positive contribution to the environment by using fuels that produce less smoke and pollution.

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Leading article