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House coal and wet wood restrictions come into force in England

The Guardian logo The Guardian 01/05/2021 Guardian staff and agency
a fire place sitting in front of a fireplace: Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Restrictions on the sale of coal, wet wood and manufactured solid fuels that can be burned in the home have come into force in England as the government attempts to cut air pollution.

Wood-burning stoves and open fires can still be used from 1 May but must be fuelled by cleaner alternatives, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

They are a big source of the pollutant PM2.5, which can enter the bloodstream, lodge in lungs and other organs and has been identified by the World Health Organization as the most serious air pollutant for human health.

Related: Coal and wet wood burning: how will restrictions work?

The particles have been linked to a wide range of health damage, particularly in younger and older people.


Video: Andy Burnham: "'We are being set up as the canaries in the coal mine" (Liverpool Echo)

The restrictions, which form part of the government’s clean air strategy, mean bagged coal and wet wood of less than 2 cubic metres cannot be sold, and wet wood in larger volumes must be sold with advice on how to dry it before burning.

a fire place sitting in a stone fireplace: Wood-burning stoves and open fires can still be used from 1 May 1 but must be fuelled by cleaner alternatives. © Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo Wood-burning stoves and open fires can still be used from 1 May 1 but must be fuelled by cleaner alternatives.

The changes also mean all manufactured solid fuels must now have a low sulphur content and only emit a small amount of smoke.

In addition, a new certification scheme will involve products being certified and labelled by suppliers to ensure they can be easily identified, and retail outlets will only be able to sell fuel with the correct label.

It comes two days after Defra released figures showing air pollution across the UK fell to its lowest levels on record in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We know air pollution at a national level has reduced significantly since 2010 – with emissions of fine particulate matter down 11% and nitrogen oxide 32% – but there is still a huge amount to do to tackle pollution from all sources, including transport, agriculture, industry and domestic burning.”

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation’s senior policy and projects manager, Harriet Edwards, said the restrictions could save the lives of millions with chronic lung conditions.

“It’s vital that we tackle all of these sources of air pollution and raise awareness about the dangers of air pollutants so people can make the best choices for their own health as well as the health of others around them,” she said.

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