Other air quality

Guide on open fires and wood-burning stoves

Open fires and wood-burning or solid fuel-burning stoves have risen in popularity over recent years. As a result, domestic burning of this nature has overtaken road transport and industry as the biggest source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs' (DEFRA) has produced a practical guide on open fires and wood burning stoves, which provides simple steps on:

  • Maximising efficiency, meaning you burn less fuel
  • Reducing maintenance costs
  • Keeping chimneys in a better condition

In addition, from the 1st May 2021 new regulations (The Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020) came into force, placing restrictions on the sale of certain solid fuels and introducing certification requirements. 

Indoor and workplace air pollution

Indoor air pollution is primarily caused by everyday activities such as indoor burning (open fires, scented candles), cooking and cleaning. Common pollutants are reported in the table below. The best way to improve indoor air quality is by increasing ventilation, mainly through opening windows.

If you are concerned about asbestos or other building materials contact Health and Environmental Services.

Common indoor pollutants and their health effects

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Pollutant Source Effect
Carbon monoxide Incomplete combustion of organic (carbon containing) materials, such as wood, coal, oil, gas.
Indoors: smoking, heating appliances including boilers (unvented), indoor burning - open fires 
Reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood leading to headaches, nausea, vomiting and eventually asphyxiation and death. Long-term exposure to lower concentrations leads to an increased risk of heart disease.
Particulate matter Cooking – especially frying
Indoor burning e.g. open fires, scented candles
Particulate matter (especially fine particulate matter – PM2.5) can get into the blood via the lungs and cause a range of health impacts impacting all organs.
Asbestos Building material, wall cladding, insulation, brake linings. Exposure indoors usually during building work and car maintenance Scarring of the lung and increased risk of lung, chest and abdominal cancer
Volatile Organic Compounds
(for example, Formaldehyde)
Paints, varnishes, glues and preservatives used in wood products. Foam insulation, exposure  indoors possible during decoration or construction. Scented candles. Household products for  example aerosols such as deodorants, paints and cleaning products. Breathing difficulties, eye and skin irritation, nausea, dizziness and risk of cancer
Cigarette Smoke:
Nicotine, tar, formaldehyde, oxides
of nitrogen, and carbon monoxide
Smoking Eye, throat and lung irritation. Increased liability to respiratory illness. Increased risk of lung cancer. Non-smokers breathing in others' smoke are also at risk (second-hand smoke).
Micro-organisms and allergens Biological contaminants, pollen, moulds, spores, viruses and bacteria Pneumonia-like respiratory illnesses, allergic reactions

Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) and Industrial Air Pollution

Emissions from industry are controlled by the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) regime. IPPC was introduced by the European Community (EC) Directive 96/61/EC on (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control). In England and Wales the Directive is implemented by the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000

IPPC covers a wider range of industrial processes than the previous control Regulations (Part 1 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990: LAAPC) and covers a wider scale of environmental impacts. Where LAAPC covered only emissions to land, air and water, IPPC, in addition to the aforementioned emissions, also looks at resource and energy efficiency, accident prevention and minimisation of other pollutants such as noise, heat and vibrations.

IPPC has been implemented to meet the following environmental objectives:

  • Protection of the environment as a whole by preventing or minimising emissions to all media (air, land and water)
  • Encourage reductions in raw materials and energy use and increased recycling and reuse
  • Promote the use of clean technology to reduce pollution at source
  • Encourage innovation, by leaving significant responsibility for developing satisfactory solutions to environmental issues with industrial operators
  • Provide a "one-stop shop" for administering applications for permits to operate; and
  • Simplify and strengthen the role of the Regulators.

The Regulators

The regulations sub-divide industries: Part A1, Part A2 and Part B. Part A1 Permits control activities with a range of environmental impacts and are regulated by the Environment Agency. These activities include:

  • Emissions to air, land and water
  • Energy efficiency
  • Waste reduction
  • Raw materials consumption
  • Noise, vibration and heat
  • Accident prevention

Part A2 Permits control a variety of industrial emission (as in Part A1 but are generally smaller-scale than the A1 processes) and Part B Permits control activities which cause emissions to air. Both Part A2 and Part B Permits are regulated by your Local Council.

The permitting process

Not all industrial activity requires an authorisation or permit to operate. Those that do are regulated either by us or the Environment Agency (EA).

Operating a prescribed activity without a permit could lead to a £50,000 fine, so if you believe an activity is being carried out or you wish to carry out an activity that may fall in the PPC Regulations, you should contact Environmental Health to discuss the application process.

Each relevant industry must apply for a Permit to the relevant regulatory Authority. In order to obtain a permit to operate an installation, the operator completes the permit application that demonstrates how they will:

  • Ensure satisfactory environmental management of the installation
  • Prevent or minimise waste production
  • Prevent accidents or minimise their effect
  • Ensure that closure of the installation does not leave residual pollution
  • Promote energy efficiency, waste minimisation and management
  • Ensure compliance with other EU Directives, Community and national environmental quality standards (EQSs) and domestic regulations
  • Apply Best Available Techniques - BAT (see below)

Best Available Techniques (BAT)

In order to gain a Permit, operators must show that they have developed proposals to apply the Best Available Techniques (BAT) to pollution prevention and control and that they address other requirements, relevant to local factors.
BAT is defined by the regulations as follows:

"the most effective and advanced stage in the development of activities and their methods of operation which indicates the practical suitability of particular techniques for providing in principle the basis for emission limit values designed to prevent and, where that is not practicable, generally to reduce emissions and the impact on the environment as a whole".

Industries requiring permits

IPPC applies to specified installations, including both existing and new builds, requiring each operator to obtain a permit from the appropriate regulator. The following industrial sectors are required to hold a permit:

  • Energy production
  • Refineries
  • Production and processing of metals
  • Production of Cement and Lime
  • Activities involving Asbestos
  • Glass, glass fibre and other mineral fibre manufacture
  • Ceramic production
  • Organic and inorganic chemical production
  • Fertiliser and biocide manufacture
  • Pharmaceutical manufacture
  • Explosives manufacture
  • Storage of bulk chemicals
  • Incineration
  • Landfill
  • Paper manufacture
  • Tar and bitumen processes
  • Coating, printing and textile activities
  • Dye, ink and coating material manufacture
  • Timber activities
  • Rubber activities
  • Processing of food
  • Intensive farming

Permit operation

As part of the application process, permit operating conditions are agreed with the Regulator and must include:

  • Emission limit values for pollutants
  • Measures for the protection of soil and groundwater and management of waste
  • Requirements for environmental monitoring
  • The operator must also consider the condition of the site at the time of the original application. This will contribute to assessing the need for restoration if the installation closes

The operator of the activity must carry out monitoring to demonstrate compliance with the permit conditions. Regulators will also carry out monitoring and regular inspections, and have a range of enforcement powers.

Operating a prescribed activity without consideration to the requirements of a Permit could lead to enforcement action (including enforcement notices, revocation of Permits and sentencing in a criminal court.

If you believe an industry is operating against the requirements of a Permit, email Health and Environmental Services or call 03450 450 500 to report activities and incidents.

Radon

Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas. It’s formed by the radioactive decay of small amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils.

Every building contains radon, but the levels are usually low. The chances of a higher level depend on the type of ground. Public Health England has published a map showing where high levels are more likely.

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