Name: Open fires.
Age: As old as mankind.
Appearance: A homely, warming alternative to sucking on a car exhaust pipe.
Oh no, don’t tell me the woke committee is coming for my open fire now. What’s woke about not liking fires?
I know that tone. You’re about to cancel open fires. Only because it turns out they are a huge cause of pollution and illness.
Pardon? A study has just forged a link between open fires and dementia, showing that elderly people who had been exposed to open fires throughout their lives showed greater cognitive impairment than those who hadn’t.
Really? I’m afraid so. Professor Barbara Maher of Lancaster University, who led the research, put her findings in the starkest possible terms. “Open fires are essentially harming friends and family every day,” she said. “We discovered that the level of exposure to particulate matter from open fires is comparable to and may well exceed the levels people are exposed to from roadside sources.”
Ah, that’s probably about wood fires. I don’t have one of those. You have a coal fire? That’s even worse! Coal produces 30 micrograms of fine particles per cubic metre, five more than the World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit.
I don’t have a coal fire either. I burn peat. Peat? Peat is the worst of all. Peat-burning produces twice the amount of fine particles as coal. It is very, very bad for you.
How bad? The study found that having a coal fire on the go for five months of the year will expose you to more particles than if you spent an entire year commuting along a busy road for an hour a day.
But I like open fires. They’re so romantic. They’re not romantic. They’re smelly, dirty and a complete faff to maintain. Could it be, in fact, that what you describe as romance is simply the sensation of iron, platinum and chromium particles entering your body through your olfactory nerves and causing permanent degradation to your brain?
I mean, maybe. Listen, I know it doesn’t have the intimacy of an open fire, but have you ever thought about central heating?
You can’t roast a marshmallow on a radiator. I guess this isn’t the time to tell you that roasting marshmallows can produce acrylamide, a toxic molecule that is thought to be a carcinogen.
It definitely isn’t. I’m sorry. I just want you to be safe.
Christmas won’t be Christmas without an open fire, though. Christmas won’t be Christmas at all this year. It’ll be smaller and more isolated than ever before. So maybe now is the time to try some new traditions.
Such as what? Not exposing your loved ones to dangerous levels of pollution might be a start.
Do say: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …”
Don’t say: “… Jack Frost coughing up his guts.”