Wood smoke is toxic

kristo 12 November 2010 131

Queanbeyan’s smoke problems are bad, too. The smell of smoke here is pervasive and looking into our narrow southern valley from heights reveals how so much pollution is caused by so few. Wood smoke is a rich cocktail of carcinogens, toxins and irritants.

Naturally, neighbours of polluters fare worse. One in eight people have asthma (one in five kids). That means that every wood heating house probably has an asthma sufferer nearby.

Governments care more about the combustion rights of a tiny minority than the breathing rights of the vast majority.

Voluntary regulation is ineffective when the private benefits of antisocial behaviour are high. And schemes that pay some people modest amounts to remove wood heaters while others are permitted to install them are fiscal folly. Regulating wood quality through sellers is flawed, too, as people cut their own.

And as for sustainability, an A.C.T. report says that 90% of the fuel is from paddock trees that aren’t replaced!

[ED – on the other hand having a wood fire is great for convincing desirable people to stay the night!]


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vsteblin vsteblin 4:31 am 15 Nov 10

I like the smell of wood-smoke, but is the smoke considerate to others?
Some like the smell of bacon, but is bacon good for those with high cholesterol?
Some like the smell of hay, but is hay good for those with allergies?
Some love the faint smell of a campfire, yet we all avoid the actual smoke.
I love the smell of roses, even if it reminds me of funerals.
I love the smell of horses, yet there are some highly allergic.
I love the smell of salted peanuts, yet they can kill some.
Most stoves have air vents to reduce the clogging of lungs.
Some gals like the smell of a guys armpit, and this can be nice for guys!
Oh boohoo, some like the smell of wood smoke.

the the 10:16 pm 14 Nov 10

I have a wood fired heater in my house. I cant afford anything else. On the pension I dont see anyone else volunteering to replace it with a gas system. With all my costs going up higher and higher every single month, having some heat in my little house for me and the grand-kids is what makes my house our home. Please dont rage against me because I cant afford anything else.

Mr Evil Mr Evil 8:26 pm 14 Nov 10

I love the smell of woodsmoke in the morning.

Thumper Thumper 5:59 pm 14 Nov 10

I’m just amazed at the proliferation of newbies. Surely this must be a record for most newbies per post?

vsteblin vsteblin 5:34 pm 14 Nov 10

Much has been learned already about the effect of particulate on lungs and much more will come. We have discovered the bad effects of cigarette smoke and the same probably applies to wood smoke. Why do so many keep on making tiny particles of wood smoke instead of using cleaner sources?

In my opinion many are not convinced that particles are harmful. Some think that wood smoke is somehow safer than the smell of transportation or industry. Many also have misguided opinions on keeping warm.

The harmful effect of particles has a long history and should be evident. Any caring person could check many sources from the internet or books about how all sorts of particles have all sorts of effects on health. The best is to err on the side of caution and to reduce or stop making tiny particles.

Keeping warm is a challenging but not an overwhelming problem during cold times. In my opinion many are misguided as to the abilities of the human body to produce heat. Humans have an amazing system of keeping warm. We generate heat from food even while sleeping. We generate excess heat with activity. We also have clothes. Why should we need so much external heat?

Why do so many insist on external heat? Are we that lazy or unwilling to wear warmer clothes? Is there anything wrong with wearing a coat inside your home and then turning down the heat? More activity would be good for many of us except for breathing in all the smoke particles that wood burners make. Get active or wear warmer clothes and get off the making smoke bandwagon.

johnboy johnboy 5:30 pm 14 Nov 10

I’m particularly enjoying the revelation of a whole tribe of previously undiscovered nutjobs.

Jethro Jethro 4:51 pm 14 Nov 10

CaresAboutHealth said :

Jethro said :

My problem is that there are all of a sudden all these new contributors with names like ‘smokefree’ and ‘caresabout health’ who are dumping a huge amount of anti-wood fire heater propaganda on this site.

It’s really sad that the Australian Lung Foundation, the American Lung Foundation and even the president of the Tasmanian AMA – put out such terrible “propaganda”?

Yet the people who make smokes and profit from selling them are considered totally honest!

I thought a good Rioter would want to check the facts and consider who profits from mis-information!!!

I don;t have a problem with people quoting from these groups, or having a point-of-view… that’s what a forum is for. However, it appears that this thread is being heavily contributed to by an organised special interest group, as opposed to individuals with an opinion.

If you are a group, you should say so.

vsteblin vsteblin 3:39 pm 14 Nov 10

Children have brown fat which makes heat and lessens their need for so much external heat. Adults who constantly feel cold can also get more brown fat by becoming active. But healthy activity needs clean air and exercising in smoke can do more damage than good. Wood burning and any smoke leads to a negative, spiralling, external heat system that seems silly. A body that relies on external heat lessens its ability to make internal heat. People burn more wood, make more smoke and then need even more external heat. Silly! A blogger from Fairbanks, Alaska commented that “External heat is for wussies”.
Another alternative if cold is to wear warmer clothes. Wear two sweaters, two pairs of socks, wear long underwear even inside the house. The pioneers used to wear a nightcap to bed to prevent head heat loss at night. They also used wood mostly to cook food because that was safer. Are we that spoiled that we need to heat the whole house with expensive fossil fuels? Then when the price of heating oil or natural gas goes up, many whine and go back to burning wood since it seems cheaper.
Central heat is a luxury unnecessary for basic health. Nobody “needs” to burn wood and nobody “needs” to make the smoke that can bother neighbours. Turn the thermostat down, wear warmer clothes, get active to make more brown fat, and butt out already with all the smoke.

kristo kristo 3:23 pm 14 Nov 10

Pommy bastard said “My money is on him/her flogging “reconditioned” gas heaters.” For the record, I don’t make money out of anything these days so I for one have no vested interest in this. Not sure about others here. And when I did make a living, it wasn’t for private interests. Nor am I a member of any political or environmental group. That’s not a boast it’s just that I’m not much of a joiner I’m afraid. But there are some very good groups out there working for the improvement of this failing planet and I am appreciative of that. I think we all should be even if we differ here and there.

Skidbladnir, I don’t get carried away with statistics as I’ve had plenty of experience with them and know their limitations. I am particularly unimpressed by increases on small bases. When the UK base has solid increase on a decent base, I’ll be impressed. In the meantime, I would encourage them to do a lot more.

CaresAboutHealth CaresAboutHealth 3:22 pm 14 Nov 10

housebound said :

I light my heater and I get whatever pollution that comes with it (not much if I operate the heater properly). You switch on your electric heating, and the residents of the Hunter Valley get your pollution. Pick the one who doesn’t care about neighbours.

Whichever way the wind blows, it takes the carcinogens away from your house and into a neighbour’s. You don’t suffer from your pollution, only your neighbours, if you live in an urban area.

As it happens, my rooftop solar PV cells generate more electricity than I use. But even if I didn’t, the discussion document produced as part of the process to set Australia’s Air Quality Standards says that power station must be equipped with fabric filters that cost in the order of $110 million in capital expenditure and a further $5 million per annum in operating costs, resulting in negligible pollution at ground level.

If you can put a HEPA filter on your chimney, like the power stations do, then your comments might make sense. But I’ll bet you it would be blocked in less than a day – every seen what a kilogram> of gooey toxic creosote particles looks like? That’s what the average wood heater user produces in less than a week.

If you tried to filter you pollution to the same standard as the power stations, the toxic smoke would enter your house and you’d be so sick you’d never want to use a wood heater again.

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 3:10 pm 14 Nov 10

vsteblin said :

Shooting used to be common…Wood burning also causes grief in crowded places… external heat is not really basic to health.

My favourite part were when you equated wood heaters with armed combat, and then suggested it was impossible to either receive frostbite or freeze to death.
A truly stunning argument.

vsteblin said :

When the health costs of neighbours are added to the overall situation, wood burning is not cheaper in cities.

We have our gas-fired NIMBYs who refuse to give us local generation, competition with industry and export for imported transportable energy, our solar feed in tariff and ornery farmers hating wind generation to help keep peak electricity prices high, and minimal market forces keeping prices low, so neighbour health (the very essence of an externalised cost, your health is your responsibility) is and will remain of minimal concern compared to keeping your children comfortable.

For the sake of carrying weight with your average Canberran, why should we stop caring about the cheapest way to keep warm?
Why should we start caring about your personal health bills, since they really are your personal responsibility to deal with?
Do you have any definite proof that they are exclusively the fault of wood burners? There are lots of cancer risk factors, lots of ways to be exposed to environmental arsenic, etc…

Pommy bastard Pommy bastard 3:06 pm 14 Nov 10

Jethro said :

My problem is that there are all of a sudden all these new contributors with names like ‘smokefree’ and ‘caresabout health’ who are dumping a huge amount of anti-wood fire heater propaganda on this site.

It feels a bit like an orchestrated campaign by an organised special interest group which, to be perfectly honest, is a use of this forum that rubs me completely the wrong way. I would feel the same if it was a pro-wood fire heater group doing the same thing.

All have an almost identical pedantic and “English as a second language” style of writing.

I’m waiting for the money shot.

CaresAboutHealth CaresAboutHealth 2:54 pm 14 Nov 10

Skidbladnir said :

PPS: To the clearly single-topic commenter and throwaway registration ‘CaresAboutHealth’, don’t get me started on the uselessness or the PM2.5 Standard to support arguments like your. … but the standard itself comes with a extensively qualified caveat from its source, to the point that Canberra sticks with PM10 due to the excessive quantities of light dust and pollen we receive due to simple geography.

Canberra reports PM10 as part of the 1998 NEPM (National Environment Protection Measure) agreement. Unfortunately, almost all research published since 1993 shows that the adverse health problems are caused by the sub-class of particles less than 2.5 microns (ie PM2.5). In 1998, Australia wasn’t measuring PM2.5 – so it would have been difficult to set a standard for something that wasn’t being measured.

They realised they had to do something about PM2.5 – a standard was added in 2003, based on international research, as a temporary measure until 2005, where all Australian ambient air quality standards were up for review. Sadly, due to inadequate resources, that review is still nowhere near complete.

Similar Government delays meant Australia took until 2002/3 to adopt the standards for diesel vehicles adopted almost a decade earlier in the US and Europe. How many times have you seen a diesel ute belching out carcinogenic black smoke every time it goes uphill? Many of these vehicles could be converted to LPG, of have filters fitted to them, for less than the cost of the damage they do to our health in 12 months of use.

I’m not a single issue person, but I do believe in checking the facts. Personally wasn’t too bothered about the gas-fired power station because I’ve never seen any sensible estimates of harmful emissions.

In fact, all the research – Australian and overseas – shows that PM2.5 is the most harmful pollutant in our air, and that it causes at least 10 times as many premature deaths as the next worst pollutant (ozone).

NZ also has woodsmoke problems. A study in Christchurch found that people living in the smokiest areas had 16% higher overall death rates (and 68% more respiratory deaths) than the areas with the least woodsmoke. NZ introduced much stricter wood heater regulations over a decade ago.

Unfortunately, our Government is scared of the wood heating industry (just like they are of the coal industry) so they tie themselves up in bureaucratic knots instead of doing their job of being guided by proven scientific facts to protect the health of the people who elected them.

vsteblin vsteblin 1:49 pm 14 Nov 10

Shooting used to be common during the pioneer days because of the wide open spaces. Gradually as towns became more populated the odd shooting accident happened and the use of guns was banned in crowded places. Banning guns was common sense as shooting near others was really unnecessary anyway.
Wood burning also causes grief in crowded places since many are sensitive to the smoke. As with shooting, wood burning is unnecessary since external heat is not really basic to health. Clean but expensive fuels exist for those wanting the luxury of central heat. Children have brown fat for internal heat and adults can always get more active to restore internal heat production. When the health costs of neighbours are added to the overall situation, wood burning is not cheaper in cities.
Considerate people have butted out long ago with burning in city limits and all crowded places need bans on wood burning. Like the shooting of long ago and the more recent bans against cigarette smoke, wood burning bans are the current common sense. Butt out in anticipation and start saving on fuel bills by wearing warm clothes in a colder house.

housebound housebound 1:36 pm 14 Nov 10

The anti-woodheater nazis are getting tedious and annoying. Their resorting to clearing statistics for Australia, when they claimed early on the real reason is concern for poorly neighbours, shows their campaign up as being ideologically motivated – or grapsing at any old argument to support their cause.

I light my heater and I get whatever pollution that comes with it (not much if I operate the heater properly). You switch on your electric heating, and the residents of the Hunter Valley get your pollution. Pick the one who doesn’t care about neighbours.

My wood comes from a sustainable woodlot – I know this for certain because I own it. Coal, gas and coal seam gas are inherently unsustainable. Pick the one who is out to plunder.

CaresAboutHealth CaresAboutHealth 1:34 pm 14 Nov 10

Jethro said :

My problem is that there are all of a sudden all these new contributors with names like ‘smokefree’ and ‘caresabout health’ who are dumping a huge amount of anti-wood fire heater propaganda on this site.

It’s really sad that the Australian Lung Foundation, the American Lung Foundation and even the president of the Tasmanian AMA – put out such terrible “propaganda”?

Yet the people who make smokes and profit from selling them are considered totally honest!

I thought a good Rioter would want to check the facts and consider who profits from mis-information!!!

Pommy bastard Pommy bastard 1:14 pm 14 Nov 10

CraigT said :

I have a feeling Kristo works for the coal industry and has been paid to agitate to increase the amount of coal we burn.

My money is on him/her flogging “reconditioned” gas heaters.

kristo said :

The UK’s forests account for oly 12 per cent of its area, Craig T. I wouldn’t get carried away with that square kilometre figure…

Yes, and?

Shirleyb28 Shirleyb28 1:14 pm 14 Nov 10

Smoke bothers your neighbors yet you continue to burn? What happened to common sense?
Wood smoke is very dangerous and for many it leads to hospital visits or worse.
I have been reading online comments for years and over and over I see the same kind of belligerent behavior!

For those that wonder why bylaws and bans are falling into place, just re-read what some of you have said. Oh, and continue to burn… it sure is helping get those bylaws and bans in place!!!

kristo kristo 1:10 pm 14 Nov 10

Skidbladnir, I apologise for misunderstanding you. I quite agree that we should price them correctly – and would add that we should also price the health impacts of burning them, particularly in built up areas. That would fix the problem in an ideal way but I can’t see it happening here. Generally addressing market failure through pricing measures stumbles politically (as the Federal Labor government recently discovered) so I think a regulatory approach involving prohibiting new installations and subsidising replacements is probably more realistic now in this region. But pricing the large externalities involved would be terrific…

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 1:06 pm 14 Nov 10

I wouldn’t get carried away with yours either, kristo…
The important bit of his sentence was ‘is increasing’, not the number.

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