Insight into wood smoke at district level for policy measures

Insight into wood smoke at district level for policy measures
Insight into wood smoke at district level for policy measures
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Measurement data essential for wood smoke health risks

High energy prices have led to a significant increase in wood burning in recent years. The wood smoke released contains harmful substances – such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and soot – that can cause health problems. People with respiratory diseases or cardiovascular diseases, but also the elderly and children, are particularly susceptible to health problems due to smoke.

For example, it is known that people with complaints are more short of breath on wood-burning days and that their medication use is higher than on other days. However, determining individual health damage as a result of wood smoke exposure is difficult.

“It is not clear what circumstances and frequency of exposure to wood smoke causes damage. There is a health-related standard value (WHO standard) for particulate matter. That is why TNO is conducting research into the contribution of wood combustion to the particulate matter concentration,” says Paula Bronsveld, Climate and Air Quality program manager at TNO.

Measuring at district level

At TNO we have years of experience with measurements of wood smoke. Our instruments can accurately measure many substances in wood smoke. However, it remains difficult to determine the direct exposure of an individual or the exact emissions of a stoker.

Every heating situation is different. This makes it difficult to measure different situations in a comparable way and to test the measured value against a standard. Moreover, in the case of nuisance, several combustion sources can often be identified as the cause, meaning that any exceedance cannot be properly attributed to one of the suspected sources.

During a previous measurement campaign in 2020-2021, we saw a clear correlation between complaints from residents and measurements at district level. By better measuring and modeling the contribution of wood smoke to air pollution at district level, municipalities can distinguish between neighborhoods where more or less attention is needed for wood combustion.

“These measurements fit in perfectly with that. The unique thing about this pilot, which we are conducting with the IJmond Environment Agency and Hollandse Luchten, is that we are mapping wood smoke in detail at district level and making the link to health,” says Bronsveld.

Soot as an indicator of wood burning

In this pilot we test whether we can use soot as an indicator substance for wood smoke and whether we can make the link between soot and particulate matter. For this purpose, very accurate measurements of soot, particulate matter and a number of other substances are carried out at a central point in the municipality of Heemskerk.

In addition, residents measure with a combination of soot and particulate matter sensors at various places in the area to be able to say something about the spread of wood smoke. If we succeed in correcting the links between soot and wood burning and between soot and particulate matter, then we can say something about the spread and harmfulness of wood burning in a municipality,” Bronsveld explains.

Valuable collaboration with citizens

Bronsveld: “The collaboration with the IJmond Environment Agency and Hollandse Luchten is going very well. The IJmond Environmental Service played an important role in setting up the pilot and Hollandse Luchten is mainly responsible for contact with citizens. It is very interesting to work together with citizens in this way, it brings us a lot.”

Hollandse Luchten is a project by Waag Futurelab that was started in 2018 by the province of North Holland and focuses on citizen science and measuring the living environment with sensor technology.

“Our goal is to give residents a platform to enter into discussions with each other, knowledge institutes, municipalities and government to improve the living environment,” says Imme Ruarus, Lead Smart Citizens Lab at Waag. This wood-burning pilot fits perfectly with Dutch Skies, because here too science, society and government are brought together.

For example, residents, together with experts from TNO and the Environment Agency, have mapped out what questions they have about wood burning in their area and have chosen the locations for the sensors.

Bringing research to society and engaging in dialogue with each other is interesting for both scientists and residents. Interacting with residents gives scientists more insight into the problem and the local context. It is valuable for residents to increase their knowledge about wood burning and to understand technology and thus strengthen their information position.

“We are curious about the measurement results and data analysis. With this kind of data and the opportunity to discuss this with scientists and the government, residents gain control over their living environment,” says Ruarus.

Rolling out the measuring method

At the beginning of January 2024, three soot sensor boxes were installed at the central measuring point in Heemskerk and on January 30, the first sensor box was installed at one of the citizens. More cabinets will follow in the short term in Heemskerk, but also in Velsen, Wijk aan Zee and Beverwijk. The expectation is that the data analysis will be ready before the summer and TNO will be able to share the results after the summer.

If it can be demonstrated that the soot measurements can be linked to the particulate matter measurements, it would be interesting to roll out these types of measurements in more municipalities. For example, does the method also work well in large cities, with more particulate matter emissions from traffic? Ultimately, these wood burning measurements can provide municipalities with tools for setting up policy and enforcement regarding wood burning.

“Perhaps in the future we can use our interactive particulate matter map of the Netherlands – which shows per municipality how many days per year the WHO standard for particulate matter has been exceeded – to show which part of particulate matter is caused by wood combustion,” Bronsveld concludes.

Will you join us?

We would like to set up more measuring points to get a better picture. Are you, as a municipality, environmental agency or citizen network, interested in measuring wood smoke? Please contact us.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Insight wood smoke district level policy measures

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