ACTQA

WOOD HEATERS IN CANBERRA

YOUR QUESTIONS AND THE FACTS

 

 

Question   Isn’t the ACT Government’s decision not to permit the use of wood heaters in Molonglo a move to ban them by stealth in the whole of Canberra?

 

Answer

·         No. This is part of a well-orchestrated scare campaign. 
·         A ban on wood heaters already exists in the Canberra suburbs of Dunlop and East O’Malley.  In Dunlop, the ban was imposed more than 10-years ago by a previous ACT LIBERAL GOVERNMENT to protect public health. 
·         An Air Quality Assessment and weather pattern studies found the new residential area of Molonglo suffered the same weather inversions in winter as the Tuggeranong Valley and other parts of Canberra. 
·         Based on this information the ACT Environment Minister, Simon Corbell,  announced to protect the public health of future residents it would not permit the use of wood heaters in Molonglo.

·         It did not want the same pollution problems in Molonglo as experienced in Tuggeranong and other parts of Canberra and which is costing ACT taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each year to clean up. 

·         Mr Corbell says, “The latest Air Quality Report issued by the Environment Protection Authority shows it (wood smoke) is the only air pollutant in the ACT to exceed the National Environment Protection Measure standard. 

·         Last year saw 4 breaches of the national standard in the Tuggeranong Valley, and while this is an improvement on previous years, the potential for more breaches would occur if wood heaters were permitted in the Molonglo Valley.” 

·       There is no safe level particulate pollution.  Particulate air pollution is estimated to cause the premature death of thousands of Australians every year.  Most of these deaths occur at pollution levels below the current standard.  Woodsmoke is not just a problem on days when PM2.5 pollution exceeds the standard, but on every day when  particle emissions (70% of annual emissions coming from 2.3% of households using wood heaters) are above what they would otherwise be and so increase the risk of illness and premature death for people who breathe the air. 

·         Mr Corbell added: “So the choice is simple, knowing what we know about wood smoke being trapped in valleys like Molonglo in the winter months, and knowing that wood smoke, can cause illness or make existing illness worse ( particularly in babies, young children and the elderly), do we take steps to help prevent the problem, or ignore the warnings?”
 

Question   Won’t  proposals by the ACT Greens to introduce a tougher emissions standard for wood heaters lead to job losses in the wood heating industry in Canberra?

 

Answer

·         The proposed legislation is likely to lead to new sales as homeowners who wish to continue to heat their homes with wood move to upgrade their wood heaters to cleaner more efficient ones.  When NZ introduced a similar standard (1.5 g/kg) in 2005, the NZ wood heating industry soon developed many new heaters that satisfied the standard. 

·         Wood heater users will also continue to buy wood to fuel their new and existing wood heaters. 

·         Stores in Canberra that sell wood burning heaters also sell other heating and cooling products. 

·         For example, one of Canberra’s largest stores, advertises on its website that, as well as  specialising in wood heaters, it also sells gas log fires, electric log fires, outdoor fires, pizza ovens, smokeless fires, fuel stoves, evaporative air conditioners, ceiling fans, ventilation fans, loft ladders, spiral staircases and even pool blankets. Wood burning heaters are just one product among many. 

·         The push for cleaner more efficient wood heaters in Canberra has the support of many health experts and organisations including Asthma ACT and the ACT Lung Life Support Group.

 

 

Question   Haven’t technological advances made wood heaters much cleaner today than they were in the past?

 

Answer

·         Wood heaters in Australia must comply with an emissions standard that was set in 1999. This stand is considered out of date and attempts to review it and apply a new standard have failed. A Federal Government Scoping Paper (A National Approach to Reducing Wood Heater Emissions, Scoping Paper on Regulator Options. Page 2, EPHC17/8.1/A) states; Governments have been unable to achieve improvements to national wood heater emission standards due to industry veto in Standards Australia processes. The emissions standard was last revised in 1999 and the current level of 4 grams of particles per kilogram of wood burnt is well above levels achievable by latest technologies and the emissions standard set in New Zealand (ie. 1.5 g/kg).”

    • Note: “Standards Australia processes” refers to the meeting of Standards Australia held on 15/16 March 2007. The minute’s state: “The Committee extensively discussed the need to reduce the emission limit further from the current specified 4g/kg. Discussion centred on the lack of chjnage to the standard since 1999 in light of multiple submissions from members and the general public calling for a reduction in the particle emission factor.”
    • The Action from the minute’s state: “Industry representative to consult the manufacturers to consider reducing the emission limits to 2g/kg.”

 

  • A CSIRO study, published in 2008, (Measurement of real-world PM10 emission factors and emission profiles from wood heaters by in situ source monitoring and atmospheric verification methods) of real-life emissions in Launceston reported that “there is not a large distinction in emissions between compliant and non-compliant woodheaters” (Section 5.1.1). The only study of real-life emissions, conducted in a city with an above-average education program on wood heating, found little difference in emissions of new and old heaters.  The study recommended an emissions factor of 10 g/kg for use in the National Pollutant Inventory. The AHHA’s website specifically mentions improvements in the past 5 years.  However, when AS4013 test results for models listed on the AHHA website in 2006 are compared with those listed 5 years later in 2011, the reduction was less than 5%. 
  • There also appears to have been little progress over the past 25 years.  John Gras’ 2002 study measured emissions of a well-used model manufactured in 1985.  The average over three low flow, one high flow and two overloaded low burns was 3.5 g/kg.  This level of emissions for predominantly low and overloaded burns would appear to be superior to the performance of many new heaters. 
  • The National Wood Heater Audit by the federal environment department in 2004 found that many on sale did not meet their claimed emissions factors with one model emitting almost 10 times more pollution than claimed by the manufacturer. 12 of the most popular brands of wood heaters were tested. The audit found the extent of non compliance was significant;  
    • 58 percent of wood heaters failed to meet the current emissions standard.
    • 55 percent had one or more serious design faults.
    • 72% had one or more labelling faults that could affect emissions performance. Further analysis found,
    • 100% failed to comply with the current emissions standard and had one or more serious design faults,
    • 20% of wood heaters that did comply with the current emission standards had one or more serious design faults.
    • None of these brands of wood heaters were withdrawn from sale and none of those that had been sold to consumers were recalled to be repaired.

 

Question  How do we know what emissions are coming from wood heaters and what is coming from other sources?

 

Answer

·         It’s not rocket science.  Australian woodheater expert Prof John Todd noted that the current generation of woodheaters emit about 10g/kg. A typical petrol-fuelled passenger car emits about 0.01g PM2.5 per km, or about 150g if driving 15,000 km per year.   So a wood heater burning Canberra’s average of 3.7 tonnes per year of wood will emit 37 kg of PM2.5, equivalent to the annual PM2.5 emissions of 247 passenger cars.

 

·         So if the highest pollution measurements are in residential areas in winter where there are lots of wood heaters and low traffic levels, could there be any possible doubt about the source of the pollution?

 

·         The ACT Government’s latest wood heater education and advertising campaign warns; “Smoke from domestic wood heaters is the largest source of air pollution in Canberra. Wood smoke pollution is an environmental issue and is linked to a number of serious health conditions.”

 

·         A study by Prof John Gras in 2002 found concentrations of more than 120 different types of pollutants, gases and aerosols with many listed as toxic on the Commonwealth Government’s Living Cities Air Toxics priority list.

 

·         The 2009-10 National Pollution Inventory shows that domestic solid fuel burning is responsible for 71 percent of particle air pollution in Canberra and 66 percent of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon air pollution. The same report shows that motor vehicles are responsible for 10-point-1 percent of particle air pollution and 30 percent of PAH pollution. The figures for particle polution therefore support statements by air pollution expert, Professor John Todd and warnings by the NSW Environment Department that one wood heater can produce up to seven times as much air pollution as a car.

 

·         The NSW Environment Department warns on its website that; “Wood heaters (in Sydney) can produce up to seven times as much particle pollution as cars and the air pollution it causes can also effect our health.” In other words, the small proportion of Sydney's households (about 4% use wood as the main form of heating) cause up to 7 times as much pollution as all Sydeny's cars, trucks and buses.  The website goes on to warn that “woodsmoke contains a number of noxious gases, including carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and a range of organic compounds some of which are toxic or carcinogenic and fine particles, which go deep into the lungs.” It also lists the chemicals contained in woodsmoke on its website. They inlcude, apart from those already mentioned, Benzene, Formaldehyde, particulate matter 10 and particulate matter 2-point-5, Toluene and polycylclic aromatic hydrocarbons among others. It goes on to say that these pollutants can cause breathing difficulties even at relatively low levels, expecially for people suffering existing respiratory conditions, such as asthmatics, and for very young children and frail older people. There is also evidence that smoke pollution can cause cardiac problems. It warns that; if you can see or smell smoke from your wood heater then you are causing a problem for yourself, your family and your neighbours.

 

·         On the other hand, vehicle manufacturers have accepted health-based emissions standards, despite additional costs. New standards to be fully implemented by 2018 will cut vehicle emissions by as much as 90-percent. This is on top of previous regulations that cut emissions from diesel cars by more than 97 per cent.

 

·         This begs the question, if vehicles can be made cleaner and more efficient, then why not wood heaters, especially if wood heaters and not vehicles are the major source of air pollution in Canberra?

 

 

 

 

Question Hasn’t wood heating been given a 4-point-5 star rating by the NSW Government under its Building and Sustainability Index (BASIX)?


 
Answer
·   The NSW Government’s Basix website does not recommend woodheating.  It says the highest BASX score is for the “no heating option” with the next highest score for the highest star rating gas fixed flued heating or the highest star rated air conditioner.  For wood, it advises:  "Woodburning contributes significantly to air pollution" and to check with your local council on air quality controls and if wood heating is permissable in your area.
 

Question   But, isn’t it cheaper to heat your home with wood compared to gas and electricity in Canberra?


 
Answer
· The annual cost of heating a 160 square metre home with an insulated ceiling in Canberra with the average consumption of 4 tonnes of wood is about $980. This is compared to gas at $750. An older model reverse cycle air-conditioning systrem would cost about $560 and new efficient model would cost about $425 and a new 5-star efficient system would cost $340. (Australian Consumers Association).
 

· Canberrans pay premium prices for wood. Wood in Canberra costs an average of $265 a tonne which in some cases can be $100 to $140 per tonne more expensive than many other areas of NSW and Victoria.

 
Question   But, what about the Canberra families can only afford to heat their homes with wood?
 
Answer
· Canberrans pay premium prices for wood. Wood in Canberra costs an average of $265 a tonne which in some cases can be $100  to $140 per tonne more expensive than many other areas of NSW and Victoria.
 
· When you do the sums, buying firewood is more expensive than gas or electric heating.
 
· To avoid the high cost of wood many people are burning rubbish timber, for example old wooden pallets laced with oils or chemicals. Or they are sourcing their own wood, collecting it from our parks, reserves and national parks or the bush. This is an illegal and unsustainable activity.
 
· To assist these people, the ACT Government has run the wood heater buyback scheme.
 
· It offers from $800 to $600 assistance payments to help people to transfer to easy to operate and cleaner gas heating.
 

· Since its introduction in 2004 more than 900 old polluting wood heaters have been removed.

 
Question   Aren’t many Canberra residents turning to wood heating as electricity and gas become more expensive.
 
Answer
· These suggestions are not supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that shows there has been a fall in the number of Canberra households that burn wood as their primary source of heating from 3-point-9 percent in 2008 to just 2-point-3 perecent today.
 

· There has also been a drop in wood sales in the ACT. According to the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment between 2003 and 2006 sales of wood by licensed merchants in the ACT fell from 18,000 tonnes to 13,000 tonnes a year.

 
Question  Isn’t wood burning for domestic heating environmentally friendly and greenhouse gas neutral?
 
Answer
 
 
Unless heaters are operated as pefectly as in the lab tests, methane emissions from Australian wood heaters cause more global warming than other forms of heating.  In addition, wood heaters substantially increase global warming because a large amount of the wood being burnt in the ACT, and Australia for that matter, DOES NOT COME FROM SUSTAINABLE SOURCES. This is supported by the former ACT Commissioner for the Enviornment, Dr Maxine Cooper, who warned in her 2003 State of the Environment Report (Indicator: Energy Consumption) “It would appear that the majority of wood used in the ACT is not sustainably harvested, but is taken primarily from the central plains of New South Wales with a small amount from eastern Victoria.” We also have to take into account that fossil fuels are burnt as it is collected and trucked as much as 400 kms to customers in Canberra. A CSIRO study on the imapct of firewood collection in Australia also found that the people who burn wood for domestic heating in Australia source it from regulated and unregulated wood merchants. The rest collect it themselves, sometimes illegally (p23-24). The environmental impact of wood burning continues in the home when many homeowners fail to use their wood heaters properly. A study in the Air Quality Journal of Australia has found that incomplete burning of wood produces methane gas which we all know contributes to the greenhouse effect. Infact the study says that methane emissions from the average wood heater causes more global awarming than heating the same home with gas or reverse cycle air conditioning.
 

· The vast majority of Canberra's firewood is sourced from dead standing forests in Central and South Western NSW and North Western Victoria and is trucked as much as 400km to the ACT. Recent media reports (Deniliquin Pastoral Times and ABC Radio) suggest that firewood stocks are dwindling and firewood suppliers now want to move into NSW national parks and reserves. The growing shortage of firewood is also forcing up prices. The Mayor of Deniliquin, (a town at the centre of the firewood collection industy) has been reported on ABC Radio complaining that the price of firewood in his town has skyrocketed from $80.00 for two tonnes to $380.00 for the same amount. This clearly indicates that wood burning is NOT sustainable.
 

· A CSIRO study on the impact of firewood collection in Australia estimated that we burn around 5 million tonnes of wood a year.
 

· This is compared to Australian hardwood chip exports of 3 point 6 million tonnes. (Firewood Market Report 16, ANU Forestry)

 
Question   What other cities or towns in Australia or around the world have had a problem with wood heaters?

 
Answer

· Other cities in Australia and around the world have taken similar if not tougher steps to reduce winter woodsmoke pollution and protect public health.

· Wood heaters were banned in in Montreal Canada in April 2009. Pellet heaters are allowed. Christchurch, NZ has banned the installation of wood heaters in all new houses.

· Christchurch has also banned use of all models over 15 years old (many in Canberra are 20 or more years old). In Otago, wood heaters with an emissions rating of more than 1-point-5 g/kg were to be removed by 1 Jan 2012 and all new wood heaters must have an emissions rating of less than 0-point-7g/kg.

· Several Sydney councils have banned the installation of wood heaters including Waverley and Holroyd local government areas. They have also been banned by Camden and Narellan councils south west of Sydney.

· Other areas of Sydney require non-polluting heating in all new developments including Manooka Valley, Oran Park and Turner Road Growth Precincts.

· Launceston Tasmania (which was identified by Dr Melita Keywood of the CSIRO along with Tuggeranong as Australians most heavily polluted residential areas in winter) proposed a by-law to prevent the installation of new wood heaters in homes. The Launceston wood heater buyback scheme (which recieved federal funding) has already succeeded in encouraging three quarters of wood heater owners to switch to clean more efficient forms of heating.

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