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TCC Submission into the ACT Government Review of Wood Smoke Education Programs

TCC Submission into the ACT Government Review of Wood Smoke Education Programs

The Tuggeranong Community Council presented the following submission to the ACT Government’s Review of Word Smoke Education Programs. While the TCC supports a review it believes the ACT Government should also consider the experiences of other jurisdictions where anti wood smoke education programs have failed. The TCC believes that for future education programs to succeed, particularly in the Tuggeranong Valley, they should focus on the public health impact of wood smoke pollution.

The TCC submission has been reproduced below:


[scribd-doc doc=”33007906″ key=”42jnxm2ixyd9f5q87k8 ” ]

Also see associated video:


  1. Leisa

    I saw an article in last week’s Chronicle about your submission to the ACT Government’s Review of Word Smoke Education Programs and subsequently found your submission on the internet. I thought it was excellent, though I’m sorry you only focussed on Tuggeranong. I live in Belconnen, but am equally imprisoned in my house every winter by neighbourhood woodsmoke.

    Thanks Liesa

  2. Belconnen Community Council

    On behalf of the Committee of the Belconnen Community Council (BCC), I wish to advise our support for the Tuggeranong Community Council’s submission to the ACT Government Review of Wood Smoke Programs. While we are aware that Tuggeranong has particular problems associated with their topography, woodsmoke is a wide-ranging problem for those with breathing difficulties and other health impairments. The BCC Committee supports compensating those residents with existing wood burning stoves. If a substitution program is put into place for wood burning heating appliances, we strongly recommend that not only gas but also electrical heating units be made an option in the exchange/compensation process.

    Belconnen Community Council
    Building a Better Community

  3. TCC

    A comment received via email:

    In regard to your submission to banning wood fires, I have had a fire for 28 years, also a son who suffers from asthma and still lives at home, he has not had trouble with his asthma due to our wood burning fire. We are a limited income family and the wood heater is our only form of heating in winter. If you are successful in banning fires who is going to pay for the installation of an alternative form of heating and the ongoing expenses for this, I get my wood for nothing and wood not be able to afford any alterntive heating during winter. I have enough trouble with paying the gas and electricity bills now. So in your greater plan of banning wood fires what are your proposals for those who cannot afford another form of heating?


  4. Jane Hedges

    My family has used a slow combustion wood fire for over 25 years. It is the only form of heating in our house. We collect our own wood and find the fire is a money saving and sustainable way of heating our house. WE DO NOT WANT ANY OTHER FORM OF HEATING. We burn only dry good quality wood. Many of our neighbours have wood fires and all love them. Firewood is a renewable resource. Burning wood is sustainable, unlike coal and gas burning forms of heating. My family and many of our neighbours are strongly against your attempt to ban wood fires. You are not representing us in your submission, in your media releases nor your continual advocacy for banning wood fires.

  5. Dian Langley

    We have had a wood heater where ever we have lived in the past. It is a good, warm, renewable source of energy, unlike gas or electricity.

    I have friends who only have a wood heater as their source of heating. They DO NOT wish to have any other form of heating, and some of our friends cannot afford to have any other form of heating. My mother got rid of her wood heater and got an electric fire and her electricity bills nearly cripple her. Warmth or food – it almost boils down to that. She says it was the worst decision she has ever made to get rid of her beloved wood fire….

  6. Simon

    @Jane Hedges

    That’s all good and well, but whether you are prepared to admit it or not the smoke is causing problems for the people around you. Did you watch the video? Once that smoke leaves your chimney you cannot control where it goes, or who is exposed to it. No matter how much you love your wood fire, you can’t stop the smoke from getting into other people’s homes. If you lived out in the bush it wouldn’t be a problem, but we live in the suburbs, where your neighbours are so close that they are often virtually on top of you.

    Why should your right to choose a particular form of heating over ride another person’s right to have clean air in their own home? Everyone has the right to health and clean air, but by choosing to use wood heating you deny those rights to everyone around you.

  7. Dr James Markos

    Tuggeranong Community Council

    Congratulations on your excellent submission to the ACT Environment Department Review of Wood Smoke Pollution Education Programs.

    I agree that education programs should highlight the health problems associated with wood smoke from wood heaters and vegetation burn-offs. They should encourage residents to change to cleaner energy for home heating and to cleaner ways to get rid of green waste. Yes, people should take measures to reduce the smoke emissions from their wood heaters, but a better option is to switch to a cleaner heating source.

    Wood heaters produce smoke. They are much more efficient & economic than an open fire but they all produce smoke. Pellet fires are the most efficient of the wood heaters, but they also produce smoke.

    Wood smoke is bad for our lungs and there is clear evidence for this. It causes flare-ups of asthma & bronchitis in those with these common conditions. It can cause premature death in those with very severe lung disease. There are also effects from long term exposure (over 10 years) shown in large population studies, including premature death from heart disease and lung cancer. The health information is extensive and can be accessed from the Australian Lung Foundation web site and the links to the equivalent lung foundations in the UK, USA & Canada.

    Wood smoke is one of the major contributors to particle pollution, especially in large urban areas which have cold winters and in valleys where there are temperature inversion layers which trap the pollutants close to the ground. Hot spots in Australia include your own Tuggeranong Valley as well as Armidale in NSW & Launceston in Tasmania. In Launceston, there has been a major improvement of air quality in recent years because of a change of community habits, with a switch from wood heating to electric heating.

    There is also a high cost to the community of wood smoke pollution. This is often not included in the cost of wood fuel, including by people who access their own wood supply without payment for the wood. Households on low incomes should expect some government assistance to switch to cleaner heating appliances, which will benefit all residents.

    Dr James Markos
    Respiratory physician, Launceston Tasmania

  8. vicky

    I am against wood heaters. When we first bought out house it had wood heating. We have since bought ducted gas heating (by a no interest payment plan making it affordable). I have recently contracted bronchitis, I believe from the air quality. There are times when the air quality is ok, but there are times when I don’t want to venture out to my mail box or hang out washing let alone excercise. I think people are very aware on how to use their wood heaters, but because of laziness, cost or just wanting to do it their way, do not use them properly. I believe it should be up to the government to phase out the wood heaters. If they are producing 67% of the pollution and only 4% of people are actually using them, this shows the effects. And even if there are other types of pollution, this is the one that I can smell. I hope that I can continue to live in Tuggeranong.

  9. Mark

    I understand that people who have heaters want to keep them but the reason they appear cheap is that others bear the pollution cost. If polluters had to pay for this, as they should, the price would be prohibitive.

    Nor do people who have wood heaters notice the pollution because whichever way the wind blows it blows away from them. If there’s a wind, the low pressure zone on the sheltered side of their houses drags the smoke down into their neighbours’ yards and windows. If there’s no wind and no temperature inversion, it rises until it cools and falls, settling into valleys and the lungs of others where it causes and aggravates lung diseases before entering the blood and doing more harm.

    Every polluter has an average of three immediate neighbours and they are surrounded by another ring of near neighbours who also suffer much. On these numbers alone smoke polluters are are small minority. Throw in the rest of the community and it’s a no brainer. This unhealthy practice in built up areas must stop!

  10. Philip Purcell

    The Australian Lung Foundation has this to say: “The harmful effects of wood smoke appear similar to those of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). We know there is no safe level of exposure to this. Individuals can choose not to smoke and can usually avoid ETS. However, a resident of a valley filled with wood smoke cannot easily avoid breathing in the polluted air.”

    If people are in genuine financial stress then I am sure then there is a strong case for Govt assistance to meet their ACTEW bills – has anyone taken this issue to the ACT Govt?

  11. Louis du Plessis

    Indigent users of wood heaters are eventually compelled by old age to give them up, because old people cannot chop firewood and it costs too much to hire a handyman to do it. The wood has to be chopped whether collected or bought. Able-bodied people mostly have enough income to afford the convenience of gas or electric heating.

  12. patricia westerberg

    I live in Conder and have emphysema and find that the wood fires are really affecting me
    and it makes it hard to breathe.
    If there is any way that my opinion is of any help that would be great

  13. Douglas

    Concur with Simon. We grew up in homes that used wood stoves and fires. I just wonder where the free wood comes from nowadays, it was available when we were younger but today? I can only assume you may have your own property where you grow your own trees for your fires? If you are collecting from the bush then I think you may also be aware of the destruction of flora and fauna that you are causing due to the removal of that old dry wood. I do understand coming from an income that does not permit a sudden change but if all were prepared to work to a similar outcome (no wood fires) in the distant future then the shock does not come as a surprise. We currently derive out heat from electricity that is powered by solar panels. We saved for over 15 years to collect the money to do so. Patient by all on this subject, working to the same end, is the best way to go.

  14. Anyone who cares about sustainability should read the advice of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (www.igsd.org) “With abrupt climate change approaching faster than predicted according to scientists, fast-action mitigation strategies (reducing black carbon, methane, and tropospheric ozone) are essential in order to avoid passing the tipping points.”

    Enclosed wood heaters emit substantial quantities of methane, which, over the next 20 years, will cause 72 times as much global warming as the same amount of carbon dioxide. People who care about climate change will leave the wood in the forest until we have the infrastructure to burn it cleanly, e.g. pellet heaters, or local electricity generation to replace unsustainable coal-fired power. This is a far more climate-friendly option than using current wood heaters, which will cause 10 times as much global warming as any other form of heating (over the next 20 years from their methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions).

    For a minority of people who collect their own firewood, wood heating might seem cheaper. But it can lead to health problems including increased risk of colds and flu, middle ear infections, heart attacks and respiratory diseases – see woodsmoke.3sc.net/woodsmoke-health-costs for details and references.

    The Australian Lung Foundation (ALF) recommends: “use alternative methods (instead of wood heaters) for climate control, including insulating and improving the energy efficiency of homes, flued gas and electric heaters and energy efficient house design” http://www.lungfoundation.com.au/content/view/99/104/

    The American Lung Association “strongly recommends using cleaner, less toxic sources of heat. Converting a wood-burning fireplace or stove to use either natural gas or propane will eliminate exposure to the dangerous toxins wood burning generates including dioxin, arsenic and formaldehyde” see http://www.lungusa.org/press-room/press-releases/cleaner-alternatives-for-winter-heat.html

    People who currently use wood heating should seriously consider their own health, that of their neighbours and not use wood heating if they have affordable non-polluting alternatives. On top of the health benefits, switching to non-polluting heating could help avoid the tipping points that might lead to catastrophic climate change.

  15. Steven

    People who think the fact they’ve been burning wood for decades makes it ok make me laugh. It says more about how much misery they’ve caused to patient neighbours.

    And don’t believe those adds retailers have been running about how ‘stringent’ our heater standards are. Australian wood heaters are allowed to put out over 150% more pollution than the ones in NZ.

  16. Woodheater smoke is a public health issue. It may be years down the track before symptoms appear (as with cigarette smoke causing emphysema etc.) so people need to continually be reminded that this is something which could well affect them and their children.

    Sooner or later woodheaters need to be phased out.

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