Exposing Conventioal Wisdom: Dirty Little Secrets
April 28, 2006 by Dr Dorothy L Robinson, Statistician, Armidale Air Quality Group, Australia
See below for Dr. Robinson's excellent reply. "Interesting promo, but why no specific mention of the two major culprits - diesel vehicles and woodheaters?"
Promo:"ABC TV Thursday, May 4 - 8:00pm
Dirty Little Secrets
Is the air in our cities safe to breathe? New science about fine particle pollution has a dire warning for public health. A storm of toxic dust and poison gases swirls through our streets and suburbs every day. Not the result of some freak industrial accident, but an invisible killer we unwittingly spread from our vehicle exhausts. The global epidemic of fine particle pollution is estimated to kill nearly a million people each year. The toxic particles are so incredibly small they can slip straight through lung walls into our bloodstream. So small, are they beyond the reach of government agencies charged with protecting public health. For more info see ABC promo.
Interesting promo, but why no specific mention of the two major culprits - diesel vehicles and woodheaters?
Catalyst is usually very good, but I sent the email below to email@example.com to alert them to the Australian National Pollutant Inventory data on the sources of fine particle emissions in our cities. Other people may wish to consider doing the same, before or after watching the program.
Sent 28 April 2006
Catalyst & Mark Horstman
Re: Dirty Little Secrets
I've just seen the promo for "Dirty Little Secrets:... an invisible killer we unwittingly spread from our vehicle exhausts. The global epidemic of fine particle pollution is estimated to kill nearly a million people each year."
Fine particle pollution is killing a lot of people. But it's wrong to blame "our vehicle exhausts". Most Australians drive petrol cars, which contribute very little to the problem. The two major sources in Australian cities are wood heaters (16,629 tonnes of emissions annually in capital cities) and diesels vehicles (responsible for 60-80% of the 14,011 tonnes of fine particles emitted by motor vehicles).
For more information, including emissions data from the Australian National Pollution Inventory, please see the refereed paper: Air pollution in Australia: review of costs, sources and potential solutions, published in December 2005 in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia. A copy can be found here.
A comprehensive is a 25-author study also investigated the sources and costs of particulate pollution estimated to cause 158 deaths every year in Christchurch, NZ (pop 330,000). Domestic smoke emissions (mainly woodsmoke) account for 122 deaths (total cost $127 million), industrial emissions 18 deaths (total cost $22 million), diesel vehicles 15.6 deaths (total cost $18.5 million) and petrol vehicles 0.4 deaths (total cost $0.5 million).
For woodsmoke, the 122 deaths were estimated to cost $93 million. Other costs of domestic smoke emissions were: cancer (NZ$0.8 million), chronic bronchitis ($2.7 million), acute hospital admissions ($0.65 million), restricted activity days ($30 million, for 285,000 days every year). The 157 page report can be downloaded from http://www.hapinz.org.nz/
The total cost of domestic woodheating in Christchurch is an estimated NZ$127 million per year. The city has about 47,000 wood burners (including some multi-fuel burners, used mainly for wood) and open fires. The emissions inventory shows that open fires and wood heaters burn similar amounts of fuel per day and have similar emissions per kg of fuel, so that the annual health costs are very similar. Dividing the cost of smoke pollution by the number of heaters ($127 million)/(47,000 heaters) indicates that woodsmoke costs the community about $2,700 per heater per year.
I'll look forward with interest to next week's broadcast. But please review the above information and, if necessary, consider a follow-up article reviewing the particular sources in Australia and the failure to develop any coherent policy for effectively reducing wood heater emissions.
Thanks and kind regards,
Dr Dorothy L Robinson,
Armidale Air Quality Group