May is usually the time when we have to turn on our home heating. May this year, with the arrival of frosty mornings and chilly evenings, is no exception. Many of us look forward to the prospect of being warm and cosy in front of a blazing wood fire or a glowing wood-fired heater.
However, before we get too cosy it is a good idea to go outside and check what is coming out of your chimney. There is a possibility that you could be polluting your neighbourhood.
Wood smoke from heaters, along with tobacco smoke and bushfire smoke, are examples of what is known as biomass smoke, which are emissions produced from burning organic matter such as grass, leaves or wood. Biomass smoke produces a wide range of chemicals, including toxins and carcinogens.
They have the potential to do harm to us all, but in particular those who are susceptible to respiratory problems such as asthma. Continued exposure creates a risk of chronic lung disease and lung cancer.
There is much that wood heater owners can do to mitigate the pollution they cause.
Information about the quality of the air we breathe is now available on the air quality data Orange NSW site, courtesy of the monitoring unit at Jaeger Reserve installed by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage in 2018.
It is expected that wood smoke will impact air quality readings during winter, and that this station will provide residents with easily accessible data on pollution levels, enabling them to make decisions on how to manage potential health impacts.
It is understood that wood burning heaters will continue to operate in Orange, as there would be little support for banning them. Wood, for many, is the most affordable form of heating, and for others the cost of converting to a less polluting form of heating is prohibitive.
However, there is much that wood heater owners can do to mitigate the pollution they cause. Most of the harmful effects of wood smoke pollution come from inefficient burning, which releases harmful greenhouse gases and wastes the energy that should be used.
There is ample advice available online from Orange City Council and from responsible wood heater retailers.
Council has the right to prosecute persistent offenders by issuing fines for non-compliance. Owning a wood heater means owning the pollution it causes - please manage it.
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