Woodsmoke stories

We would welcome any woodsmoke stories you would like to share. We’re interested in your experience – has wood smoke affected your health, or the enjoyment of your property? What steps have you had to take to mitigate your exposure to harmful pollution? Has it imposed unreasonable expenses upon you? Please let us know via no2woodsmoke@gmail.com and we’ll publish your story here.

CHILDREN HOSPITALISED

Every winter my neighbourhood in Canberra’s south is filled with smoke. I never knew the real danger of residential woodsmoke until my wife and I moved to Canberra in the early 90’s. Our home, like many homes built at the time, had a slow combustion wood heater. Not knowing the potential health risk, we spent the cold winters enjoying the warm comfort of a fire. That was until one winter, when our young daughter was rushed to hospital with a severe lung infection. She spent 10-days in an oxygen tent battling to breathe. When my wife and I finally got her home, our relief was short lived with our young son developing the same symptoms. We rushed back to the hospital, and he was immediately admitted for a similar lung infection. He later developed asthma. The doctor’s questioned us about our heating. We said we had a wood heater. They warned wood heaters can leak smoke and living with a wood heater was like living with a packet a day cigarette smoker. We were devastated. We thought we were doing the right thing, using the wood heater properly with the right wood, keeping it maintained and trying to reduce the amount of smoke emitting from the chimney. Instead, we felt we had unknowingly endangered the health of our two young children. Both children are now adults. Our son lives by the coast and because of his work he must maintain his fitness. He regularly jogs and cycles. While visiting us one winter he jogged around the block but soon gave up returning home with breathing problems. For the first time in many years his asthma had returned, triggered by the woodsmoke in our neighbourhood.   Where I live, in Canberra’s south, we experience some of the worst air pollution in the whole city when people fire up their wood heaters. I have a weather station in my backyard and when the temperature drops, I regularly record hazardous levels of residential wood smoke pollution. The levels in my neighbourhood can be higher than those recorded by the official ACT Government air pollution monitor at nearby Monash. It can be so bad that if I leave a window open at night the smoke is drawn into my house and sets off the smoke alarms. My stations’ air pollution monitor was off the scale for about several days during the black summer bushfires. Then, governments warned us that smoke from the bushfires was dangerous to our health. What I want people to also understand is that smoke from a wood heater can be just as serious, it’s more frequent and hangs around our neighbourhoods longer during the cooler months of the year. I don’t have asthma, but I’m deeply concerned about the impact residential woodsmoke had on my kids and how it’s affecting many others. I have elderly friends who spend the cooler months of the year trapped at home, suffering in silence. They have a pre-existing health condition and if they venture outside with woodsmoke around more than likely they will end up in hospital. All we want to do is lead normal lives and walk outside to breathe clean, crisp Canberra air.  If you have a woodfire heater, please consider making the switch to a cleaner and healthier heating alternative this winter. You could really make a difference.

Tuggeranong resident

A COSTLY PROBLEM

As a resident of Tuggeranong, I am concerned about the consequences of wood smoke exposure. According to ACT Government air quality data provided through the University of Tasmania’s Air Rater app, during winter evenings, wood heaters can pollute the air to the extent that Tuggeranong suffers higher levels of air pollution than Beijing. As we are aware that wood smoke has a particularly harmful effect on young children, we have purchased a number of air purifiers and installed better quality windows to help protect ourselves. This has cost in the tens of thousands of dollars – money that we would have preferred to save for our young children. How many other Canberrans have spent significant sums of money to limit their exposure to wood smoke that they would rather have saved or spent on something else due to the ACT Government’s failure to resolve this issue? I have also written to the ACT Minister for the Environment, Minister for Health and my MLAs to express my concerns. Of those who responded, all sympathised and acknowledged that wood heaters are a public health and environmental problem, but did not demonstrate any interest in addressing the problem beyond reiterating that there are (clearly ineffective) policies in place. Disappointingly, the ACT Minister for Health simply forwarded my email to the Minister for the Environment’s office, demonstrating a disinterest in tackling this public health issue. In 21st century Canberra, in the midst of a climate emergency, with all we know about the impact of wood smoke on our health, and especially that of young children, I consider this totally unacceptable.

Anonymous, Tuggeranong