Canal boats’ green image goes up in smoke

<span>Narrowboats on the Shropshire and Union canal at Wheaton Aston in Staffordshire.</span><span>Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer</span>
Narrowboats on the Shropshire and Union canal at Wheaton Aston in Staffordshire.Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

I enjoyed the article on narrowboating (After five years on a narrowboat, I’ve finally reached the end of the canal network, 17 February), as a regular walker of canal towpaths (and also hailing from north-west Lancashire). But the picture of the author relaxing in front of his wood-burning stove reminded me that this is the heating method of choice for most canal boat owners, so I suppose that those of them who are regular Guardian readers will still be agonising over another recent article (Wood-burning stoves largely offset fall in particulate pollution from roads in UK, 14 February).

And, given that most canal boats are powered by diesel engines, are there any words of comfort and advice that you can offer them now that their green transport credentials have taken another knock?
Frank Keightley
Old, Northamptonshire

• Your article quotes Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and his view that wood burners produce 450 times more toxic air pollution than gas central heating. He does not say anything about all the sources of particulate pollution and what we should do to eliminate particulate pollution from all sources. A 1993 study carried out by Lancaster University on traffic and health looked in detail at 10 UK cities and reported a strong correlation of negative health outcomes with traffic volume. As traffic levels increased, so did the number of incidences of defined poor health. I have no problem with proposals to abolish wood burners as long as we have a full scientific case that also looks at the equivalent of abolition for traffic (cars, lorries, motor bikes and buses) and all other sources of pollution and comes up with an intelligent policy plan to get to zero particulate pollution from all sources on all streets where people live.
Prof John Whitelegg
Liverpool John Moores University

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