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After review by independent experts, a published study of air pollution and health, concluded that Armidale’s woodsmoke increased PM2.5 exposure by about 11 ug/m3, which at the time indicated that the residents who die next year would have collectively lived another 115 years if they had lived in identical conditions except for the woodsmoke pollution. Residents dying over 10 year period, would have had 1150 additional years of life if we'd been able to clean up our air.   The study estimated the health cost at $4,270 per year for every wood stove in Armidale.

Another study of woodsmoke and health in concluded that visits to Armidale GPs for respiratory complaints increases within 24 hours of a night of high woodsmoke pollution. The estimated health cost of woodsmoke was $1,666 a day or about $200,000 every winter from additional medications, the cost of vising GPs and time off work or school.

Many people have difficulty believing these figures.  For example, submission to council on woodsmoke by a health professional states:
   We lived for fifteen years in (south central Armidale). From two years of age my daughter suffered respiratory illness every year. It started in early May each year approximately two weeks after wood fires were lit, and continued until the end of winter when the fires stopped.  This occurred until my daughter was twelve years old, which is when we moved to a house above the smoke line on South hill. Since then she has not suffered from the same respiratory illness. It just stopped! We did not have to go to the Doctor or buy any more medication .During the same time my son suffered from a persistent cough during winters, this also stopped when we moved house. Note our Allingham  St house was heated by a wood fire our new house is not. Otherwise nothing changed We have always had a good diet and our children participated in several sports. The only thing that changed was our moving out of a house that had a wood heater in an area that was in a heavy smoke zone into a non wood heated house out of the smoke zone. 
   Note our decision to move house was not driven to get out of the  smoke, but we were surprised in the dramatic change in our children’s health when we did.

The Growing up in New Zealand study found that an having just 1 stove per hectare increases the risk of an infant under 3 having a non-accidental visit to an emergency department by 7%.

And for elderly people, just look at the leading causes of death - heart and circulatory diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases - for which exposure to smoke - either from cigarettes or wood stoves - substantially increases the risk of premature death. When Launceston reduced woodsmoke pollution by 40%,  deaths in winter from respiratory disease fell by 28% and cardiovascular disease by 20%.  Wouldn't you rather living in a city with 28% fewer deaths every year from lung diseases and 20% fewer heart attacks and strokes?
Average life expectancy for a man in New England North west is 77.9 years, 3.7 years less than the average for Sydney and 6.4 years less than the life expectancy of a man living on Sydney's northern beaches. Why would a tree-changer want to come to our region if we can't offer him an equivalent standard of health?

Our community cares about health. In 2016 the Armidale Express said that 'Coming into winter we have lots of babies with bronchiolitis' but thanks to a generous gift from Humpty Dumpty Foundation of two AirVol humidi-cribs, these babies could now be treated in Armidale, rather than having to be transferred to a metropolitan hospital. That's great, but we should also ask why we have lots of babies with bronchiolitis in winter?   Four studies have linked woodsmoke to bronchiolitis, including one that showed using a wood stove increased the risk 4-fold and another that found living in a woodsmoke-affected area increased the risk of bronchiolitis by more than living withing 50 metres of a major highway. Adults are also more likely to get bronchiolitis if exposed to woodsmoke, and they have even demonstrated the same is true for rats.

So why aren't we doing more to solve the problem?  I believe it's because, like the health professional whose daughter suffered respiratory illnesses every year for 15 years starting a couple of weeks after wood fires were lit, people have no idea what our wood smoke pollution is doing to their health.  People think they get colds in winter - they don't realise that woodsmoke reduced the ability of the lungs to fight infection, as has been demonstrated in animals.  When mice were forced to breath woodsmoke for 6 hours at levels not much higher than we get in Armidale and then challenged with a respiratory bug, 21% were dead 2 weeks later compared to only 5% that breathed oil furnace fumes for the same period of time or clean air. If you knew the facts would you want to keep on breathing the air that killed 21% of the mice after breathing in a respiratory bug?

Heating technology, like solar panels has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 5 years.  A kW of solar panels cost less than a quarter of what I paid a few years ago and modern, efficient heater-air-conditioners can now heat our living rooms to a comfortable temperature whenever we are using them for less than the cost of buying firewood, and cause much less global warming than a wood stove. That's because heater-air-conditioners work by moving heat from outside to inside the house, so 80% of the heat comes from the the sun's warmth.

When Launceston residents understood what woodsmoke pollution was doing to their health, over 4,000 chose to switch to non-polluting heating, more than half of them entirely at their own expense.  If we can show similar leadership, I'm sure Armidale residents will want to do the right thing for their health and the environment.

In the past 2 years, processed have failed.  Armidale Dumaresq council resolved on 28 September 2015 to implement a package of measures that would have gone a long way towards solving the problem, but not a single one of them was ever implemented. Subsequent recommendations by the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee have been put on hold, so we have made no progress whatsoever in the past 2.5 years, despite spending millions on other things.

I know a lot of people who have suffered cancers and heart attacks including a someone not much older than me who suffered a cardiac arrest in the hospital emergency department but was lucky enough to be resuscitated. We can't ignore the statistics any more.  Having 12 Armidale residents die prematurely every year, losing an average of 10 years of life is like having a minibus of 70 year olds killed in a crash every year.  If that happened every year for 10 years on Rockvale road, I bet everyone would be demanding action. 

We'd all be saying that 440K to fix the problem would be cheap at the price.  And the same applies to the 100 premature deaths from woodsmoke, as well as all the non-fatal heart attacks, strokes, cancers, cot deaths, asthma, genetic damage in babies and reduced IQ and behavioural problems such as attention deficit, anxiety and autism.

I'm sure we'll find other sources of funding for Rockvale Road, but staff working in environmental sustainability have not been able to find any money to clean up our air.  We can't have a stronger community without a healthier community, so in the absence of any other funds to get a program implemented before the start of winter, let's resolve to use the $440K and look forward to a stronger, healthier community!







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