House coal and damp wood to be banned by 2023 to reduce pollution levels

The sale of the most polluting fuels burned in household stoves and open fires will be phased out from next year to clean up the air, the government has said.

Plans to phase out the sale of house coal and wet wood have been confirmed as part of efforts to tackle tiny particle pollutants known as PM2.5, which can penetrate deep into lungs and the blood and cause serious health problems.

Wood burning stoves and coal fires are the single largest source of PM2.5, contributing three times as much of the pollution as road transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

These produce less smoke and pollution, and are cheaper and more efficient to burn, officials said.

“By moving towards the use of cleaner fuels such as dry wood we can all play a part in improving the health of millions of people. This is the latest step in delivering on the challenge we set ourselves in our world-leading clean air strategy.

“We will continue to be ambitious and innovative in tackling air pollution from all sources as we work towards our goal to halve the harm to human health from air pollution by 2030.”

Sales of all bagged traditional house coal will be phased out by February 2021, and the sale of loose coal direct to customers via approved coal merchants will end by February 2023.

Sales of wet wood in units of under two cubic metres will be restricted from February 2021, to allow for existing stocks to be used up.

Wet wood sold in larger volumes will need to be sold with advice on how to dry it before burning from this date, the government said.

Manufacturers of solid fuels will also need to show they have a very low sulphur content and only emit a small amount of smoke.

Prof Stephen Holgate, special adviser on air quality at the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We know that air pollution causes significant health issues across the life course. It is key that the government does everything it can to improve the air we all breathe. Today’s announcement on domestic burning is a welcome step forward, and will in time, play a role in reducing the pollution associated with PM2.5.

“Inhaling combustion particles from any source is harmful, but more so than ever when it’s directly within your home. Burning coal for heat and power has to stop and strong guidance is needed to insist that if wood is burnt in approved stoves, it is non-contaminated and dry.”

John Maingay of the British Heart Foundation said: “Wood and coal burning accounts for 40% of harmful levels of background PM2.5 in the UK, and our research has shown that toxic PM2.5 can enter the bloodstream and damage our heart and circulatory system.