Burning wood not only emits greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, it also releases fine particles into the air that pose a threat to human health. In France, according to the latest estimates from Public Health France, fine particles (PM2.5, less than 2.5 micrometers) are responsible for at least 40,000 deaths each year.
Particularly dangerous because they penetrate deeply into the body, they are the cause of respiratory or cardiovascular diseases or even lung cancer. However, domestic wood heating is the main source of PM2.5 emissions (43%) in France. and, everywhere in the territory, are pushing collective heating plants running on biomass.
In a study published at the end of 2020 in the journal Nature, researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (Switzerland) are sounding the alarm: the particles resulting from the combustion of biomass, by their oxidizing potential, that is to say their ability to attack cells, are even more toxic than those from the exhaust gases of old diesel and gasoline vehicles. Wood combustion is also an important source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carcinogenic gases. Wood would thus emit up to 35 times more PAHs than fuel oil.
“On the way to a new health scandal”
“After diesel, France is embarking on the path of a new health scandal”, denounces Thomas Bourdrel, radiologist and author of several reference articles on air pollution. With a group of doctors and health professionals, mainly from Strasbourg, he initiated a call asking “A shutdown of biomass plants” in the Alsatian capital.
Two power plants are already in operation in Strasbourg. The oldest, installed in the industrial area of the Port du Rhin, contributes to particulate emissions and especially PAHs, according to measurements carried out by Atmo Grand Est, the body responsible for monitoring air quality in the region. . The 2018 report also shows that it is a source of heavy metal emissions and that it is involved in several peaks of fine particle pollution during the winter of 2017.
Also in Strasbourg, the Blue Paper paper mill replaced its gas-fired heat production unit with a biomass plant and an incinerator. “This example alone sums up the problem of biomass power plants, believes Thomas Bourdrel. La Dreal [direction régionale de l’environnement, de l’aménagement et du logement] granted the industrialist a derogation so that it could double its particulate matter emissions and quadruple those of HAP, which did not prevent the project from receiving subsidies from the State and the city on the pretext that it made it possible to switch from fossil fuels, in this case gas, to renewable energies: wood and waste. »
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