Armidale pollution much higher than levels that kill 1400 Sydneysiders
Armidale residents may have been shocked by TV, radio and newspaper reports (link) that air pollution kills up to 1400 Sydneysiders every year. It’s even more shocking to consider how air pollution affects our own health. The graph shows monthly average pollution levels at the Armidale Creeklands, compared to Liverpool (a residential suburb that experiences wood smoke emissions) and the whole of Sydney.
In summer, we enjoy cleaner air than Sydney. But from April to September, our pollution is much worse.
Premature mortality was Sydney is most closely associated with pollution measured by nephelometer coefficients (or PM2.5 pollution) – exactly the same as the measurements in Armidale. Scientists in the US have also found that particle pollution increases the risk of cot death, as is the case for tobacco smoke.
Deaths and air pollution in Sydney are generally higher in winter. Despite the fact that only 13% of households in Sydney use wood heating, carbon dating of particles collected in winter in Sydney’s residential suburbs showed that up to 80% were from wood heaters, not coal, oil or diesel. Our higher levels of pollution should therefore be no surprise.
Wood smoke contains the same and similar chemicals to cigarette smoke. A US EPA study using Ames tests on bacteria and tumour initiation tests on mice found it was 12 times as mutagenic (cancer-causing) as the same quantity of cigarette smoke. As well as premature death from heart and lung disease, wood smoke is linked to mouth and throat cancer, middle ear infections, increased of risk of catching ‘flu bugs, and worse allergies in the post-winter hay fever season.
Health authorities such as the Australian Lung foundation, the American Lung Association and the UK Department of Health and Environment recommend using non-polluting alternatives to wood heating when available. In Armidale, we have alternatives. Installing insulation and using flued gas or reverse cycle electric heaters is cheaper than buying firewood and council is offering a $500 rebate to replace wood heaters with cleaner alternatives. We could also develop new alternatives such as rooftop solar heaters with gas or electric boosters for late evenings and cloudy days. They could be as cheap as a wood heater to install, but far more environmentally friendly, with running costs only a fraction of the cost of buying firewood.
In Christchurch, NZ (pop 330,000), wood smoke is estimated to cause 124 premature deaths per year and cost the community NZ$127 million (US$89 million) per year – about NZ$2,700 per heater per year. Other sources of pollution were much lower – industrial (18 premature deaths, total cost NZ$22 million), diesel vehicles (15.6 deaths, $18.5 million) and petrol vehicles (0.4 deaths, $0.5 million.
The Christchurch community is introducing measures to reduce the impact on their health by wood smoke emissions by more than 80% over the next few years. Launceston has also demonstrated its concern by halved the number of wood heaters and so halving pollution over the past few years, with plans for further wood smoke-reduction measures in the future.
If, like the citizens of Christchurch and Launceston, Armidale residents are concerned about the health effects, we need get together and devise a plan to reduce wood smoke. Other communities understand and have acted on the problem. Even Sydneysiders are concerned about their pollution estimated to kill up to 1,400 people per year. Our pollution is much worse. Surely we should get together as a community and do something about it?