26 September 2023

Commissioner finds wood heaters smoky

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The ACT’s current policies, plans and strategies for managing wood heaters are insufficient, according to an investigation by the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment.

In her report Can Canberra ‘Burn Right Tonight’ or is there ‘No Safe Level of air Pollution’?, Commissioner Sophie Lewis said a significant source of air pollution in the ACT was smoke from wood heaters.

“While some estimates suggest that less than five per cent of Canberra households rely on wood as their primary source of heating, wood heaters account for a large fraction of Canberra’s fine particle air pollution in winter months,” Commissioner Lewis said.

“This situation is particularly concerning given current understandings that there is no safe concentration of particles for sensitive people,” she said.

“Wood heater smoke is associated with adverse respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes and Canberra community members are still largely unable to protect themselves from these risks during cooler months.”

Commissioner Lewis said that over the period of 2017–2019, air pollution complaints to the Environment Protection Authority were dominated by smoke (wood heaters and controlled burns), accounting for 403 air pollution complaints (55 per cent of the total).

She said while there had been increasing recognition of the negative impacts of wood heaters and smoke, there was a lack of clear progress in improving air pollution in Canberra over time.

“This Investigation finds that the current policies, plans and strategies for managing wood heaters in the ACT are insufficient,” the Commissioner said.

“They are not adequately protecting human health and the environment of from issues arising from wood heaters, including air quality issues,” she said.

“While ACT Government is committed to strengthening wood heater emissions standards and phasing out older wood heaters that do not meet standards, but this has not gone far enough for improving air quality.”

Commissioner Lewis made eight recommendations aimed at phasing out wood heaters in the ACT, improving education about wood heater risks, strengthening compliance, and implementing additional recommendations from the 2019 State of the Environment Report.

The Commissioner’s 32-page report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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