During winter, wood heaters can produce up to seven times as much particle pollution as cars, making smoke from wood heaters a major cause of air pollution.
Not only is a smoking fire wasting your money, but the air pollution it causes is a real and significant human health hazard, according to Bega Valley Shire Council’s environmental health co-ordinator, Greg O’Donnell.
"There is a number of different pollutants in wood smoke including particles of differing sizes, and chemicals such as dioxins and volatile organic compounds - many of which are potentially toxic and have unknown long-term effects," he said.
"Many of these compounds are common with those seen in tobacco smoke or car exhausts."
Mr O’Donnell said that, according to the Australian Lung Foundation, Studies from many regions around the globe had identified short-term increases in death rates and hospital admissions related to increased concentrations of wood smoke in the air.
"The particles in wood smoke can penetrate deeply into the lungs and irritate the airways, thus causing existing problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema/chronic bronchitis or asthma to worsen.
"Dr James Markos, from the Australian Lung Foundation, feels strongly about the particles that are released into the atmosphere with wood smoke.
"He said: ‘There is no safe level of exposure to particle pollution. Over many years, exposure has similar long-term consequences to environmental tobacco smoke, including the risk of lung cancer and heart disease’.
"The Australian Lung Foundation recommends:
- Using alternative methods for climate control:
- insulation and other measures to improve the energy efficiency of the home;
- heaters fired by gas (with flue to exterior) or electricity;
- energy efficient house design (e.g. windows that allow the winter sun in).
- Where consumers continue to use wood heaters, to:
- use correctly stored dry, seasoned wood;
- properly maintain the heater and chimneys such as cleaning the creosote from the flue yearly;
- replace the "china man’s cap" with a parallel rain excluder style cowling;
- apply techniques to minimize smoke such as loading the wood with adequate space around the logs, and putting on a quick burn after lighting or reloading (according to Prof John Todd of Tasmania, poor use of woodheaters can increase the amount of smoke from a wood heater by 100 times);
- seek wood heaters that meet AS/NZS (Australian/New Zealand Standard) 4013 for particle emissions or consider up-grading existing woodheater to a less polluting model."
Mr O’Donnell said, the NSW Environmental Protection Authority had more information on their website http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/woodsmoke/ and the Asthma Foundation had advice at http://www.asthmafoundation.org.au/Wood_fire_heaters.aspx