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Peat is one of the main solid fuels burned in Ireland. Alamy Stock Photo
air quality

Open fires strongly linked with respiratory disease in older Irish people

Older people are more likely to use solid fuels and tend to spend more time at home.

OLDER IRISH PEOPLE who use an open fire as the main means of heating their home are much more likely to have a respiratory disease, research has indicated.

The research also suggested that lighting an open fire in a centrally heated home – as many people do for its cosy ambience – could also pose a health risk.

The study, published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, found older adults who used an open fire as their main source of heating were more than twice as likely to have a respiratory disease than those using closed solid fuel appliances such as stoves.

Researchers from the ESRI were surprised to find that people living in centrally heated homes also had a “significantly higher likelihood” of respiratory disease compared with those using closed solid fuel appliances.

They suggested that this may be because households with central heating were more likely to use an open fire as a secondary source of heating.

They noted that older people over the age of 50 were more likely to use solid fuels, and tended to spend more time at home.

Ireland is an outlier among rich countries in the high proportion of homes heated using peat, coal and wood. Around one in six houses in Ireland uses solid fuel as its main source of heat, while more than half use open fires and stoves as a secondary heat source.

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to examine the role domestic wood burning plays in Ireland’s air pollution problems. Support this project here.

Households outside Dublin, particularly in border, midlands and western counties, are much more likely to use solid fuel. 

“Ireland’s high levels of solid fuel use are noteworthy because burning solid fuels is a significant source of carbon emissions and particulate matter pollution with associated strong negative health effects,” the researchers said.

They suggested that policies aimed at promoting a switch to cleaner sources of heating could target particular groups. For example, their research suggested people working in agriculture were more likely to use solid fuels.

“However, policies to encourage a switch away from solid fuels will not be successful if households are not provided with viable alternatives to their existing heating systems,” the researchers said.

“While expansion of gas networks is one potential avenue, heat pumps, district heating and renewable energy could also play an important role in facilitating the transition away from solid fuels.”

The researchers combined data from the Household Budget Survey of 2015-16 and from the 2016 wave of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing to reach their findings. 

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