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Middle class fashion for wood burning stoves ‘is damaging children’s health’



Dr Lucy Reynolds, a Glasgow-based consultant paediatrician, said the increasing number of wood-burners in affluent areas is causing families to unwittingly contribute to air pollution.

“For those of us who work in child health, it’s a particular concern because children breathe faster,” Dr Reynolds said.

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“They’re more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Because they breathe faster, they’re taking in more of any pollutant that’s in the air, per kilo of their body weight.

“But also children’s organs are still forming, their cells are still actively dividing and therefore toxins such as air pollutants can harm that process and harm the formation of their organs.

“And that includes when they’re in the womb.

“So that pregnant women who are exposed to higher levels of various air pollutants are more likely to deliver prematurely and for their babies to be lower birth weight.”

A recent Scottish study carried out in Tayside mapped admissions at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee against levels of air pollution.

It found that many more children were admitted with asthma and chest infections in the days after a period of poor air quality.

Meanwhile, in England, nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on her death certificate.

In 2020, a coroner listed air pollution as a cause of death which, Dr Reynolds said, “is a really big deal for those of us in paediatrics”.

Wood-burning stoves are the focus of this year’s campaigning Clean Air Night, which is supported by the The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Research carried out for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed wood-burners are increasingly a middle class purchase.

Almost half bought by people in the upper AB social grades.

Dr Reynolds, who sits on the RCPCH’s climate change working group and a Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board sustainability clinical group, added: “Wood burning stoves are becoming more popular, particularly in urban areas, so burning of wood is going to worsen local air quality.

“Burning wood is contributing to making us ill and making our children ill.

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“This is not criticising the person on a croft who doesn’t have an alternative or people for whom it is the cheapest option.

“What’s increased is the fashionable side.

“I can think of various of my friends who have burning stoves and who would have no idea how harmful they are so it’s not about saying you’re all wicked and everybody who’s got a wood-burning stove must rip them out now.

“But they can be more aware, don’t use their wood boarding stove as much and also don’t suggest to their friends that it’s a marvellous thing and everybody else should have one.

“We need to stop the increase and the increase does seem to be partly just fashion but to be doing something that is damaging people’s health and the environment just for fashion, I can’t support that.”

Clean Air Night, on Wednesday, is organised by the environmental charity Global Action Plan, with support from English local authorities but is a UK-wide endeavour.

The charity, as well as the health issues around wood-burning, is also sharing the message that the burners are an expensive way to heat a home, more so than gas boilers or heat pumps.

Dr Reynolds, a developmental paediatrician, added: “Climate change can be too huge for people to think about or to feel that they can have an impact about whereas if you focus on something more immediate, like these things with it about air pollution, you’re actually having an impact on climate change as well.

“Climate change is a bigger issue for children than it is for adults because they’re going to live with more of it and certainly it’s our duty as paediatricians to be advocating on behalf of children.

“We have taken a particular focus on air pollution because it has such direct and relatively immediate impact on child health.”

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