News Release

Wood burner users needed to take part in new ‘pollution alert’ study

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Nottingham

People who use wood-burning stoves are needed to take part in the UK’s first study to understand how an air quality alert system could help reduce the health risks posed by wood smoke around their homes and in their communities.

Academics at the universities of Nottingham and Sheffield are studying the Burner Alert system – the first and only system in the UK.

Using data from official sensor networks, and weather and chemistry modelling, the system allows stove users across the country to check air pollution levels on their street via a website before burning. It is designed to allow them to make an informed choice over whether to light their stove when the air quality outside is poor. 

Participants can read the information sheet and sign up to take part here:

Dr James Heydon, study lead at the University of Nottingham, said: “Air quality can vary between areas and wood burner emissions can make it worse, particularly when many stoves are lit at once. The Burner Alert system provides people with real-time data on the air quality in their area, allowing them to make an informed decision about whether to light their stove. We’re interested in understanding how people with stoves use this system and whether it could help to improve air quality in different areas.”

Before lighting their stove, users can enter their postcode to find out the current status of pollution levels in their area. The Burner Alert system uses traffic light colour coding, indicating a different level of air quality with an accompanying recommendation for stove users:

  • Green – no alert: if air pollution over the last 24 hours is well below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 24 hour average limit, the colour will be green and no alert will be issued.
  • Amber – advisory: if air pollution is approaching the WHO’s average 24 hour limit, an advisory alert will be issued. Given that air pollution is approaching the limit, stove users are asked to consider not lighting their stoves, particularly if they have an alternative source of heat.
  • Red – burner alert: the highest level of alert available. Particulate pollution in this area is already above the WHO’s recommended limit for a 24 hour period, and as such, stove users are asked to avoid lighting their stoves, unless they have no alternative source of heating.

Wood burner emissions are attracting increased attention because they produce 17% of all particulate matter emissions nationally; a larger proportion than that produced by traffic. When inhaled, these tiny particles pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream, entering every organ in the body. Exposure increases the risk of respiratory infections across age groups and is associated with the onset of asthma in children, as well as strokes, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and lung cancer in adults. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, between 2010 and 2020 stove emissions across the UK increased by 35 per cent.

Other countries have piloted variations of this approach, with a system in California proving to be notably successful, causing particulate matter pollution to fall between 11 and 15 per cent in its first year. As a result, the number of older people admitted to hospital with heart problems dropped by between 7 and 11 per cent.

Stove users from across the UK are being asked to take part in the study by completing a 15-minute survey at the start and end of a two-week period. Over this time, they will be asked to use the Burner Alert website to check air pollution levels on their street prior to lighting their stove. All participants will be entered into a draw to receive one of ten £20 Amazon vouchers.   

Participants will be asked about their knowledge of air pollution, burning behaviour both prior to and following use of the Burner Alert, as well as their experience of using the system itself to understand how far it could be used to control air pollution in communities. 

The team aim to use this information to make recommendations to local authorities and national government on how Burner Alert systems may be introduced to supplement existing regulations, improve local air quality and achieve clean air targets.

The study team includes experts from the universities of Nottingham and Sheffield, along with industry partner AirRated, to understand the potential for Burner Alerts to reduce air pollution across the UK.

Representing cutting-edge efforts at developing interdisciplinary solutions to air quality issues in urban areas, the team draws insights from the fields of behavioural science, politics, social policy, and civil engineering to understand the role of Burner Alerts in addressing air pollution.

The researchers are also looking to speak with professionals who work in the sector to inform their understanding of the Burner Alert system.

The study – along with the Burner Alert system itself – has been funded by the Institute for Policy and Engagement at the University of Nottingham. The study will run over winter, until March 2023.

The interdisciplinary team is made up of:

  • Dr James Heydon (Sociology, University of Nottingham – Principal Investigator)
  • Dr Chantelle Wood (Behavioural Science, University of Sheffield)
  • Dr Matthew Wood (Politics, University of Sheffield)
  • Rohit Chakraborty (Civil Engineering, AirRated)
  • Vibhuti Patel (Behavioural Science, University of Sheffield)
  • Caitlin Bunce (Social Policy, University of Nottingham)

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