As of 2025, Utrecht municipality is banning the burning of wood in fire pits in public areas because they produce too many fine particulates in the air. WUR campus also has fire pits. A sustainable institution like WUR really should not be allowing this, says researcher Bert Heusinkveld (Meteorology and Air Quality).
‘There are signs all over the campus saying we are a smoke-free environment’, Heusinkveld says. ‘That feels strange when I see this. Research shows that smoke from wood fires is equally damaging, or perhaps even more so, than inhaling second-hand smoke. I realise that fire pits are cosy and provide a nice atmosphere, but perhaps gas fires could provide an alternative.’
This spring, he set up a network of sensors in Wageningen to measure fine particulates. Sixty measuring points near private citizens were to map the nuisance caused by particulates. However, it didn’t include the campus, so there is no measurement data yet. ‘Setting up measuring points on campus was difficult, so the campus appears as a white spot on the map.’
Even so, he advocates getting rid of the fire pits. ‘Fine particulates soon disperse, but those peaks close by have a big impact on health. There are signs all over campus saying no smoking. I feel ambiguous about that. Research shows that the smoke from burning wood could be more harmful than passive smoking.’ RK
The peaks in the immediate surroundings are relevant to your health
Bert Heusinkveld, Meteorology and Air Quality
Hence, data on the emissions that result from the fire pits on the campus are lacking. ‘The network is not sufficiently fine to record everything. Fine particulates disperse quickly. That is also the case with the fire pits: the effect is felt close by, but a few houses further, the effect is much smaller. It creates a nuisance in the first one hundred metres but disappears into the background further away.’
The campus is an open area. Will the health impact be minor? Heusinkveld: ‘The peaks in the immediate surroundings are relevant to your health. That is the hammer’s blow on your body. And not just if you already have pulmonary issues. It also causes pulmonary issues to develop. Fine particulates have a stacked effect.’