Contribution of solid fuel, gas combustion, or tobacco smoke to indoor air pollutant concentrations in Irish and Scottish homes


Sean Semple
Scottish Centre for Indoor Air
Division of Applied Health Sciences
University of Aberdeen
1.068 Polwarth Building
Aberdeen AB25 2ZD UK


Abstract  There are limited data describing pollutant levels inside homes that burn solid fuel within developed country settings with most studies describing test conditions or the effect of interventions. This study recruited homes in Ireland and Scotland where open combustion processes take place. Open combustion was classified as coal, peat, or wood fuel burning, use of a gas cooker or stove, or where there is at least one resident smoker. Twenty-four-hour data on airborne concentrations of particulate matter <2.5 μm in size (PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), endotoxin in inhalable dust and carbon dioxide (CO2), together with 2–3 week averaged concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were collected in 100 houses during the winter and spring of 2009–2010. The geometric mean of the 24-h time-weighted-average (TWA) PM2.5 concentration was highest in homes with resident smokers (99 μg/m3– much higher than the WHO 24-h guidance value of 25 μg/m3). Lower geometric mean 24-h TWA levels were found in homes that burned coal (7 μg/m3) or wood (6 μg/m3) and in homes with gas cookers (7 μg/m3). In peat-burning homes, the average 24-h PM2.5 level recorded was 11 μg/m3. Airborne endotoxin, CO, CO2, and NO2 concentrations were generally within indoor air quality guidance levels.

Practical Implications

Little is known about indoor air quality (IAQ) in homes that burn solid or fossil-derived fuels in economically developed countries. Recent legislative changes have moved to improve IAQ at work and in enclosed public places, but there remains a real need to begin the process of quantifying the health burden that arises from indoor air pollution within domestic environments. This study demonstrates that homes in Scotland and Ireland that burn solid fuels or gas for heating and cooking have concentrations of air pollutants generally within guideline levels. Homes where combustion of cigarettes takes place have much poorer air quality.