Burning Issues

Latest News from Australia: May 2003

Dr Dorothy L Robinson
Armidale Air Quality Group

Here's a few snippets of woodsmoke news:

1) New studies continue to implicate particulate pollution in heart and respiratory disease:
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/451977 found a **60%** reduction in heart attacks when on June 4, 2002, Helena, Montana, a city of 46,943, created smoke-free workplaces, restaurants, bars, casinos, bowling alleys, and other public places.  The size of this effect is staggering.  Woodsmoke is pretty similar to cigarette smoke (apart from the nicotine), so it would be very surprising if reducing woodsmoke didn't also reduce heart attacks.
   In Ireland, Dublin reduced its air pollution (mainly from home heating with coal) by 36 ug/m3.  A paper published in the Lancet (19 October 2002) estimated that 116 fewer people died from respiratory diseases and 243 people suffered cardiovascular deaths.
   Note that the reduction was estimated to save more than twice as many cardiovascular as respiratory deaths.  People understand that cigarette smoking causes heart disease, but I wonder how many people know that twice as many people die from air pollution related heart disease than respiratory disease?  Should there be more education on this?
2) Armidale still hasn't got the health the message!  A survey by UNE's Psychology Department over the last few months found that a substantial proportion of wood heater owners did not believe that woodsmoke was affecting out health.  For example, 18.7% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement "I don't believe the health of Armidale residents is being adversely affected by wood-smoke".  A further 28.1% agreed and another 28.1% were neutral.  Only 18.7% disagreed and 2.2% strongly disagreed.  Thus only 18.7+2.2% = 20.9% actually thought our health was being affected by woodsmoke. 
  This is in stark contrast to the 1999 research reported in Lutfa Khan's PhD Thesis of a significant correlation between visits to GPs in Armidale for respiratory complaints and prior woodsmoke levels.  Pity the latest survey didn't ask: "If woodsmoke levels were found to be correlated with visits to GPs for respiratory complaints, how much more should Council spend on the problem?"

3) Darryl has now produced a Canberra Woodsmoke Website.  Well done!

4) Redlands Shire Council leaflet on wood heating, passed on by Diane McGill.  It's a good start, even though it doesn't mention heart disease! 

Extract from Redlands Shire Council Leaflet
Wood-fired heaters are becoming increasingly popular in Redland Shire homes, because of the character and ambience they add to living areas during the colder months.
However, with this popularity arises certain issues regarding health impacts and public nuisance.
These potential consequences should be considered when making your home heating choices.

Health impacts - effects of wood smoke
Smoke from residential wood-fired heaters can raise pollution levels in their surrounds - sometimes directly affecting neighbours.
It is well documented that the fine particulates contained in woodsmoke can cause significant health impacts.  Some of these include
·???????The fire particulates can go deep into the lungs where they can irritate the respiratory system, decrease lung function and contribute to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis.
·???????Wood smoke contains many of the same carcinogens found in cigarette smoke - regular exposure can have the same health effects as passive smoking.
·???????Domestic wood heaters release noxious gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide - the same as those emitted from car exhausts.

Neighbourhood disputes
Not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for wood-fired heaters and Council receives an increasing number of complaints about smoke nuisance every year.
It is the responsibility of the owner of a domestic wood heater to ensure that smoke from their heater does not cause irritation to their neighbours.
Although a wood heater may comply with the design requirements of "Australian Standard AS 4013 - Emissions for domestic solid fuel burning appliances", it does not mean that it will not emit smoke or pollutants.  Council recommends that owners take any measures possible to reduce smoke when using their heater.

Council Requirements
É Redland Sire Council currently enforces environment protection laws that prohibit residents with wood burning heaters from causing smoke "nuisance, annoyance or irritation" to others.  On-the-spot fines can be up to $150. 
Owning a wood heater that complies with the Australian Standard does not protect the owner from being fined by Council if the heater is shown to cause a problem in the neighbourhood.

Better use of your wood heater
·???????Use the right fuel - follow the manufacturer's recommendations when purchasing fuel to ensure compliance with Australian standards
·???????Purchase dry, seasoned wood - low moisture content in your wood will save you money.  (Stock up in the summer months.)
·???????Store your fuel properly - ensure plenty of air access but keep it sheltered.
·???????Prevent heat leaks to reduce burning time - ensure cracks in doors and windows are covered, and draw curtains at night.
·???????Maintain your heater by cleaning the flue on a regular basis

Consider the alternatives
Consider cleaner home heating alternatives such as:
·???????Better home insulation
·???????Energy-efficient house design; and
·???????Natural gas-fired heaters.

5) NSW Planning Regulations - still in limbo
A year or two ago, there was a proposal to transfer wood heater issues from the Local Government Act to the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning.  I'm not sure about the reasoning behind this.  I'm told that in Armidale, building applications are required before wood heaters are installed.  However, there appears to be no enforcement and most people don't bother.  Despite the recommendations of the NSW EPA to consult neighbours, there is no attempt to doso.  Indeed, Council said they didn't know what they could do if a neighbour objected.  This seems like a real mess that should be fixed as soon as possible.  What do other people think?

6) New woodsmoke sufferers email discussion list
Set up as a discussion list where wood smoke sufferers and investigators can let off steam!

7) Bush Fire Management Forum at the University of New England on the 28th of May.
As part of the new Bush Fire Education Program, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) will be running a Northern Tablelands Bush Fire Management Forum at the University of New England on the 28th of May. The Forum is one component of a larger regional bush fire education tour by the NCC Bush Fire Program. It aims to provide an opportunity for fire and land management professionals, academics and other stakeholders in bush fire management to discuss best practice management, planning techniques and the role of community engagement in all aspects of wild fire risk mitigation.

This years workshops will be focused on local and regional issues; in particular, understanding fire and biodiversity, risk management plans and strategies and the role of communication both between managers and with the public.

Leading bush fire managers and educators from the University, Rural Fire Service and the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be among presenters and panellists at the Forum. Time will also be allocated for facilitated discussion and debate.

DonŐt miss this opportunity to take part in an important local forum on the hottest topic in 2003!

To register contact:
Angela Baker, Bush Fire Education Officer
Ph 02 9279 2855, Email bushfire@nccnsw.edu.au, Fax 02 9279 2499
Or visit our website www.nccnsw.org.au

More news in another couple of months.
Keep up the good work, folks!

Dr Dorothy L Robinson
Armidale Air Quality Group
02 67 73 3209


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