In a drive to convert power generation from fossil to sustainable fuels, many new power plants across Europe are based on burning wood chips and straw. While sulphur oxide (SOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from biomass are lower than from fossil fuels, particulate matter (PM) and black carbon (BC) emissions are higher.
The IARC and WHO designate particulates a Group 1 carcinogen. Particulates are the deadliest form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered, which causes permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks and premature death.
In 2013, a Danish study involving 312,944 people in nine European countries revealed that there were no safe level of particulates and that for every increase of 10 μg/m3 in PM10, the lung cancer rate rose 22%.
The smaller PM2.5 were particularly deadly, with a 36% increase in lung cancer per 10 μg/m3 as it can penetrate deeper into the lungs. At the same time scientific research deems black carbon as the second most important factor for climate change after CO2.
Thorough filtration of emissions from biomass power plants is therefore an important factor to human health.