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Domestic wood burning has same impact as the Black Summer bushfires says Australian study

A new study undertaken in the Australian Capital Territory (population: 454,000) has determined that up to 63 residents die each year due to smoke from domestic wood burners.  

As we reported last year, the Canberra Government is to phase out domestic wood burners in urban areas by 2045 but the authors of this new study are calling for more widespread action, banning new installations and phasing out existing units in both urban and suburban areas.

burned charcoalsThe researchers undertook a rapid health impact assessment of the effect of wood heater pollution on mortality in the ACT, based on air quality data from three monitoring stations and published exposure–response functions and population health statistics, to estimate the number of deaths and the associated cost of deaths attributable to wood heater smoke.

The study looked at the years 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021, and 2022. (2019 and 2020 were excluded because of the impact of extreme bushfires on air quality).

Three of the years (2017, 2018 and 2021) were considered to be colder years and the other two (2016 and 2022) milder.

Wood heater emissions contributed an estimated 1.16–1.73 µg/m³ to the annual mean PM2.5 concentration during the colder years (17–25% of annual mean exposure), and 0.72 µg/m³ (15%) or 0.89 µg/m³ (13%) during the two milder years. 

Using the most conservative exposure–response function, the estimated annual number of deaths attributable to wood heater smoke was 17–26 during the colder three years and 11–15 deaths during the milder two years.

Using the least conservative exposure–response function, an estimated 43–63 deaths per year (colder years) and 26–36 deaths per year (milder years) were attributable to wood heater smoke. The estimated annual equivalent cost of deaths was $57–136 million (most conservative) and $140–333 million (least conservative).

The study found that the estimated annual number of deaths in the ACT attributable to wood heater PM2.5 pollution was similar to that attributed to the extreme smoke of the 2019–20 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires.

In conclusion, the team make some recommendations: ‘Public education about wood heater use alone does not efficiently improve local air quality. Reducing the number of wood heaters by not allowing new installations and phasing out existing units is essential for reducing particulate air pollution and its impact on health.

‘Requiring that wood heaters be removed when selling properties could reduce their number significantly.  Government rebates and other financial incentives, particularly for low income households, could also encourage people to replace wood heaters with lower emission alternatives, improving domestic energy efficiency and air quality.’

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