Wood burning costs Europe €17bn in health costs a year

Air pollution from fossil fuel and wood burning in the home causes €27bn a year in health-related costs to society across the EU and UK, a new study for the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) has found.

The study found wood-based home appliances are the worst offenders for Europe as a whole, responsible for €17bn (57%) of health-related costs.

Coal is responsible for €5bn or 17% of costs, while oil and gas pollution causes costs of €3bn and €2.3bn respectively.

Indirect pollution from electricity and non-residential heat generation is responsible for an additional €2bn, bringing the total health costs faced by Europe to €29bn per year.

Heat pumps cause no direct air pollutants and, combined with a fully renewable energy system with no biomass, health-related costs from air pollution would be reduced to zero, the report found.

focus photography of wood burning

EPHA Director General, Dr Milka Sokolović, said: ‘It is clearer than ever that burning fossil fuels and biomass at home is not only an environmental, but also a major health problem. The solution, obviously, lies in ensuring that homes are powered by clean renewables. That’s why we are calling on political leaders to oversee a ‘big clean switch’, helping households transition to clean home cooking and heating. As people are grappling with high energy prices, we must avoid quick and dirty solutions that chain us to polluting and health and climate-harming in the long term. Our home environments must protect our health.’

At a street level, the average European household faces health-related costs of €130 a year.

Wood stoves were found to trigger four fifths (84%) of air pollution costs in Italy and 54% of those in the UK.

In 18 European countries, health-related costs from residential heating and cooking are higher than those from transport.

The study was carried out for EPHA by Dutch consultancy CE Delft. The researchers followed WHO guidelines to calculate a health-related cost to society for a given amount of each pollutant. This ‘environmental cost’ is based on healthcare expenditures and a monetary estimate of various welfare losses stemming from each pollutant, including lost employment, reduced quality of life and early death.

The estimated environmental costs vary from country to country, to reflect differing earnings, prices and other factors throughout Europe. These costs were then combined with data on pollution from household cooking and heating appliances.

Photo by Tim Bish


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2 years ago

A shocking statistic. Shouldn’t families be told not to burn wood unless it is their only form of heating? Shouldn’t wood stoves come with a health warning label? Shouldn’t wood burning be banned in our cities? Shouldn’t doctors and nurses advise asthma patients never to install a wood stove? Or to cook with an aga type wood oven? Why is there still such ignorance about the health risks from wood burning? I think because it has been promoted as eco-friendly, a kind of cosy getting-back-to-nature idea. When all it does it does is damage our health and that of our neighbours. Are the new stoves really any better?

Luke Chamberlain
Luke Chamberlain
2 years ago

Why, oh, why if people suffer so much from wood burning – and the costs are so high both in human health and health system costs – is the EU, with full support of the EU Commission, promoting and allowing the subsidising of burning of wood for so-called “renewable” energy.

1 year ago

Not only the EU Luke. Our own UK government (BEIS) supports biomass burning on a masive scale. You must have read about DRAX in Yorkshire? And the Stove Industry Alliance that promotes domestic wood stoves and log burners with glee, telling the public that new eco stoves are so much ‘cleaner’, when they still emit fine particulate air pollution? The amount being uncertain because it will depend on exactly what is burned and how. And these stoves carry no health warnings. And DRAX recieves millions of pounds, daily, out of the UK pocket, as financial subsidies because biomass counts as ‘green’. It is almost beyond belief. I fear with the gas prices shooting up so dramatically now, we shall see even more wood burning across the UK this winter. It is unhealthy for all of us.

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