Wood Smoke Stories

More wood smoke in the Netherlands

I live in the Netherlands in a densely populated neighborhood, where the level of air pollution has increased dramatically over the last years due to the burning of wood. The government is aware of the problem, but only provides some useless “tips and tools” to avoid wood smoke annoyance or damage. There are no appropriate laws or regulations, apart from the prohibition of burning trash.

In fact, burning wood for residential heating never was a tradition in the Netherlands. We burned coal, until natural gas reserves were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s. Successively most people were connected to the natural gas grid, which was possible since the country is small and consists of densely populated urban areas. The use of clean gas led to a significant improvement in public health. People who owned a wood stove or a fireplace used these only occasionally, on weekends or on holidays. But since wood burning became really fashionable, lots of people have installed one.  Also they are promoted as “natural,” “carbon-neutral” and of course “sustainable” and “renewable.” The government even has introduced financial incentives to buy pellet stoves, because our country has trouble meeting the EU’s targets for renewable energy.

Now, 20 to 25% of the Dutch households own a wood stove, some of which are operated all day. Wood stoves are responsible for 26% of the total amount of fine particles in the Dutch atmosphere. This is comparable with the contribution of all road traffic. The Netherlands are much too densely populated to allow large scale wood burning, and recent developments have led to a dangerous decrease of air quality in a lot of residential neighbourhoods. The awareness of health hazards due to ultrafine particles and poisonous and carcinogenic woodsmoke is very low. There are no public campaigns. There is no change-out program. Almost all “education” comes from groups of concerned citizens and the Dutch Lung Association. Few people associate inhaling woodsmoke with passive smoking. My husband and I are surrounded by at least 10 wood stoves. We taped our doors and windows and we invested in several air purifiers with HEPA and charcoal filters. This situation has affected our health and our well-being to the core.