WELCOME to the winter weather for which Orange is renowned.
It seems to have started early and it promises to be long and cold.
One of the joys of cold Orange winters is to curl up with a book in front of a cheerful fire burning in a wood heater. There is something special about wood-fired heat and dancing flames that appeals to many of us. Maybe infused in our DNA from primitive times when we huddled around the campfire for warmth and security.
The downside of wood-fired heating is the pollution caused by improper and irresponsible use. Although modern wood heaters are designed to efficiently manage emissions, there are still operators who are responsible for polluting their neighbourhood with unnecessary smoke. This is not only unpleasant and inconsiderate, it is also highly dangerous and environmentally irresponsible.
We used not to be concerned about woodsmoke because it was “natural”. We have been burning wood for centuries. Unfortunately hundreds of scientific studies have revealed that the pollution from wood smoke has been linked to a litany of health problems that include asthma attacks, diminished lung function, respiratory ailments, heart attacks and stroke.
Wood smoke contains such gases as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and some compounds that are known to be carcinogenic. There also exists within wood smoke very fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. These particles are so fine that even with windows closed, they can infiltrate even the most well-insulated homes.
Scientific studies have shown that particle pollution levels inside homes reach up to 70 per cent of pollution outdoors.
There is a tendency to believe that if wood smoke rises, the pollutants rise with it. This is not the case. Most harmful pollutants from wood burning hang around for some time at ground level.
Pollution from wood burning is especially dangerous for those with existing respiratory conditions, children and the elderly. It is also hazardous to the health of all of us. There is no safe level of particle pollution.
In climates such as ours, there is more particle pollution caused by wood heaters than any other single source of pollution, the highest concentration being after midnight, when wood heaters are turned down and left to smoulder. This practice generates lots of smoke, very little heat, is inconsiderate to neighbours and creates an environmental health hazard.
If you own a wood-fired heater, the best test of whether you are operating it at a safe level is to go outside and see whether the smoke from your chimney is visible and prolonged or if, when outside, you can smell smoke from your fire. If so, you are causing problems for yourself and your neighbours.
The same goes for those living in the neighbourhood of an irresponsible wood-fired heater operator. If you can smell his smoke it is doing you harm. If this is the case, you can contact Orange City Council, which has procedures to deal with wood smoke violation.
Sources: Orange City Council website, Woodsmoke Myths and Facts: Families for clean air