Ricardo economists and air quality specialists frequently collaborate to provide clients with ground-breaking evidence which sets out the sheer scale of health emergencies, such as avoidable deaths caused by air pollution, while also identifying the positive health economic benefits – reducing early deaths, improving health and quality of life - and enabling significant economic growth, by tackling those emergencies.
In our latest work, we have undertaken economic analysis for the London Wood Burning Project which has identified that solid fuels are the second largest source of airborne particle pollution in the UK, leading to the early deaths of an estimated 284 Londoners a year. Here, the project lead, Jack Dubey, sets out his team’s findings.
Towns and cities across the UK have seen a sharp rise in wood burning in recent years as householders in urban areas have installed log burners or wood burning stoves. Although the perception is that wood burning stoves are romantic, warm and cosy, the reality is that wood burning is now widely recognised as a major source of air pollution in London, and could be bringing harmful pollution to greater numbers of people in the nation’s capital city.
To help combat this, the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has funded the London Wood Burning Project to help raise awareness and understanding of the impact of burning wood and other solid fuels, in a domestic setting, upon human health. The project is led by the London boroughs of Camden and Islington on behalf of 13 other participating London boroughs. To raise awareness of the human health impact of wood burning (and other solid fuels) the London Wood Burning Project commissioned my team at Ricardo to undertake a Health Impact Evaluation that assessed and monetised these impacts across the Greater London region.
The increase in the use of solid fuels to heat London homes has led to an increase in the emission of harmful air pollutants and subsequently the detrimental impact upon human health. For many sources of pollution (such as transport or industry), the key focus is on their contribution to ‘outdoor’ air pollution and the exposure of the population at large. However, for domestic solid fuel combustion, the exposure of households to the effects of ‘indoor’ air pollution also poses a critical health risk.
Domestic emissions in London account for around a quarter of total Particulate Matter (PM2.5) emissions. Wood burning is the largest source of domestic emissions, and accounts for approximately 17.1% of total PM2.5 emissions in the Greater London region (69.8% of PM2.5 emissions from the domestic sector). Consequently, the burning of solid fuels in domestic settings is a key contributor to PM2.5 emissions in the Greater London region. The study also considered the impact of NO2 emissions generated as a result of the domestic combustion of coal and oil and the associated health impacts.
As part of our work, we estimated the impact that exposure to harmful air pollutants, resulting from domestic solid fuel burning, have had on the health of Londoners, as well as specifically those living within the 15 boroughs participating in the London Wood Burning Project. We estimated that 284 Londoners are now dying prematurely each year due to exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 generated by domestic solid fuel heating. This is expected to result in an annual increase of approximately 90 new cases of asthma in children, 60 new cases of stroke and 30 new lung cancer cases across London.
The health impacts caused by these pollutants result in significant economic costs. These costs capture the combined value that residents place on their own good health, economic productivity impacts and costs incurred by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The loss of more than 3,400 years of life alone results in a cost of more than 161 million GBP per year. The monetised impact of all health impacts caused by an increase in hospital admissions and recorded incidences of health cases exceeds 26 million GBP annually. Within that total, the effects of coronary heart disease account for more than 15 million GBP. Lost productivity also has a significant economic impact, in excess of 10 million GBP. All these health impacts have a total cost of more than 197 million GBP per year, which equates to a cost per inhabitant of London of approximately 24 GBP per year.
Our research showed, therefore, that the burning of solid fuels – and most significantly wood - within London’s households – has widespread economic and health impacts that ultimately affect all Londoners.
Find out more:
- Read our executive summary of the Health Impact Evaluation
- Read our full technical report
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