Wood burning in Scottish homes: air pollution exposure, behaviour change and health
The popularity of residential wood combustion has increased substantially in recent years in response to the increasing costs of fossil fuels, climate change mitigation policies and trends in interior design. On top of this general trend, recent inflation and increased costs of gas & electricity are likely to increase wood fuel use in 2022 and beyond.
Currently, over 95% of homes that burn wood have other forms of heating available, e.g. electricity and gas (DEFRA, 2020). In Scotland, there were estimated to be over 100,000 wood fuel users in 2015 (UK Government, 2016). Consequently, residential wood combustion has been identified as an important source of air pollution in Europe (Price- Allison et al., 2021). PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 µm) is a key metric for air pollution. In the UK it is estimated that 44% of PM2.5 emissions are from domestic combustion (UK Government, 2020).
This increase in use of domestic wood burning is of concern as exposure to air pollution is a major risk for human health with an estimated 6.7 million deaths globally every year (Global Burden of Disease Study, 2019). For the UK, estimates of the number of premature deaths from air pollution every year range from 15,000 (Global Burden of Disease Study, 2019) to 40,000 (Royal College of Physicians, 2016).
Reductions in indoor and outdoor air pollution from wood burning stoves is one key area that both the UK and Scottish Governments wish to tackle (UK Clean Air Strategy (2019), Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 air quality strategy (2021)). However, there is limited knowledge on the emissions and personal exposure to domestic wood burning within Scotland, and any proposed top-down changes will need to be accompanied by bottom-up behavioural changes (Holgate, 2017).
Therefore, the aim of this studentship is to evaluate the contribution of domestic wood burning to air pollution in (and around) Scottish homes and to explore behavioural solutions to reduce air pollution.
To achieve this, the proposed project objectives are to:
1. Explore the spatio-temporal variation in stove use in Scotland in relation to other key social and environmental variables.
2. Quantify emissions of key air pollutants (e.g. PM2.5, carbon monoxide (CO)) from wood burning stoves to both indoor and outdoor environments in Scotland.
3. Quantify the contribution of stove-use emissions to total personal air pollution exposure (e.g. PM2.5, CO) among different population groups (e.g. urban/rural, by age, etc).
4. Explore, with stove users, the acceptability of potential behavioural modifications to reduce air pollution emissions and exposures.
The student will engage with stakeholders including policymakers, stove users and health organisations throughout the project to support the development of guidelines to help reduce the impact of stove use on exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants.