Air Pollution Expert: Why Christmas May Be The Most Toxic Day Of The Year

Goncharenya Tanya / shutterstock

Kristy Hamilton 21 Dec 2016, 21:24

See the blazing yule before us

Wood burning is becoming more popular – often for aesthetic reasons – and this releases significant amounts of particulate pollution into the outdoor environment. Wood smoke is a significant reason why many cities are exceeding European air quality limits during winter. In Denmark, emissions from wood-burning stoves are calculated to cause 400 premature deaths every year, while in London it accounts for between 7% and 9% of wintertime particle pollution.

Studies have also shown wood smoke can enter neighbouring homes. Even if wood is burnt in modern stoves rather than open fires, start-up, stoking and reloading can still cause high emissions. Smoke from firewood contains hundreds of compounds which can cause cancer, mutations or defective pregnancies.

To reduce emissions allow wood to season before burning it. Keep it dry as it burns most efficiently when its moisture content is below 20%.

The dark side of candles

The use of candles to create a warm, festive atmosphere is common in homes over Christmas. While they look attractive, once lit, they emit ultrafine particles which may contain metals released from the colour pigments. Soot can also be produced, typically when the candle flame flickers due varying air flows.

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Let’s hope these crackers contain gas masks. Rawpixel.com / shutterstock

Scented candles are even worse as they release various volatile organic compounds (VOCs), identified by the EU as priority indoor pollutants. However certain house plants can help clean up these compounds.

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