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Wood-burning ovens may be behind 4 million deaths


Traditional wood-burning ovens may be behind a surge in lung disease deaths, an expert has claimed.

Professor Onno van Schayck, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, made the claim after reviewing alarming new global data. 

Global figures showed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), caused by smoking and pollution, claimed 3.2 million lives in 2015.

And Professor van Schayck said that biomass cooking methods, used by 1.8 billion people, are partly responsible for the surge in deaths. 

Such cooking methods are commonplace in the developing world, but are also used in trendy pizza and steakhouse restaurants.

Tackling air pollution, caused by wood-burning ovens, is key to reducing the growing toll following the success of anti-smoking initiatives, Professor van Schayck said.

Professor Onno van Schayck, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, made the claim about wood-burning ovens after reviewing alarming new global data

Professor Onno van Schayck, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, made the claim about wood-burning ovens after reviewing alarming new global data

Professor Onno van Schayck, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, made the claim about wood-burning ovens after reviewing alarming new global data

Reviewing the data published in a prestigious medical journal, he added: ‘The use of biomass fuel is one of the greatest causes of air pollution.

‘Nowadays more than half of the world’s population uses biomass fuel as a primary cooking source – resulting in a high burden of morbidity and mortality.’

The call for a switch to cleaner fuels 

Professor van Schayck added: ‘To reduce household air pollution a switch to cleaner fuels would be desirable. 

‘However, this change is not always possible due to financial or logistical constraints – especially in urban slums.’

What did the researchers find? 

Deaths from COPD have soared by 11.6 per cent in the last 15 years, amid an increase in air pollution across the world, the data showed. 

Cases have also risen by 44 per cent in the same time frame, Washington University in Seattle researchers discovered.


Air pollution claims more lives in Britain than in most other western European countries, a UN report warned in May.

Toxic emissions are responsible for an average of 25.7 deaths per 100,000 in the UK compared to just 0.4 in Sweden.

Our mortality rate is also twice as high as in the US and significantly worse than Brazil and Mexico.

Analysis by the World Health Organisation reveals that filthy air killed 6.5million people worldwide in 2012.

But mortality rates in the UK were far higher than in many other comparable countries in Europe and the rest of the world.

Britain’s air was more deadly than in Spain (14.7 per 100,000 deaths), France (17.2) and the Netherlands (24). The figure was 12.1 in the US, 15.8 in Brazil and 23.5 in Mexico. 

COPD is a group of lung conditions – including emphysema and chronic bronchitis – that cause breathing difficulties. People are often left undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or without drugs.

Over the same time frame, asthma deaths fell by around 26 per cent – from 550,000 to 400,000, the researchers noted.

However, prevalence of the disease, which can be caused by smoking, went up by 12 per cent, with 358 million new cases recorded in 2015.

The study, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, showed asthma is the most common chronic respiratory disease worldwide. 

A lack of attention 

The scientists behind the research, funded by the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation, bemoaned the lack of attention COPD gets.

Lead author Professor Theo Vos said: ‘COPD and asthma contribute substantially to the burden of non-communicable disease.

‘Although much of the burden is either preventable or treatable with affordable interventions these diseases have received less attention than other prominent non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer or diabetes.

‘Up-to-date information on COPD and asthma is key to policy making to improve access to and quality of existing interventions.’ 

Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘COPD sadly takes the lives of nearly 30,000 people in the UK every year, yet many people haven’t even heard of it. 

‘People living with lung disease are most impacted by air pollution, which is why we urgently need to reduce harmful emissions.’

The dangers of wood-burning stoves 

It’s not the first time that wood-burning stoves have been blamed for a spike in air pollution levels.

In January, when London temporarily became more polluted than Beijing, experts urged owners of the trendy gadgets to think twice about using them. 

Anna Heslop, of environmental group Client Earth said at the time that the major share of dangerous air pollution comes from diesel vehicles.

But she warned that wood burners can contribute to the smog events we often see in winter. 


Air pollution could make you more vulnerable to infection, if new research is to be believed. 

Nano-sized particles found in traffic fumes can damage the immune system’s ability to kill viruses and bacteria.

Edinburgh Napier University were behind the findings which investigated the link between car-choked streets and illness.

The results, showing significant human health implications, are believed to be the first to confirm an association between the two. 

It is expected to prompt calls for the government to step up efforts to tackle air pollution amid its recent announcement of a crackdown on diesel cars. 

Lead author Dr Peter Barlow said: ‘This is an area of research that is very poorly understood.

‘We were extremely concerned when we found that air pollution particles could inhibit the activity of these molecules, which are absolutely essential in the fight against infection.

‘In light of these findings, we urge that strong action plans are put in place to rapidly reduce particulate air pollution in our towns and cities.’ 


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