Armidale 2018

We have National Air Quality Standards to protect our health

Armidale’s 31 exceedances of the Australian National Standards so far this winter at the official NSW Government station (red line), and 63 exceedances in residential area 1 (brown line), show our air is very unhealthy.  Muswellbrook and Singleton offer $1,500 subsidies to replace wood heaters with non-polluting heating, but not Armidale!

If you want council to do more to clean up our air, email

Launceston reduced woodsmoke by 40% and enjoyed 28% fewer deaths in winter from respiratory disease & 20% fewer from cardiovascular diseases.

Woodsmoke is also linked to cancers (it contains many known human carcinogens), heart failure (Tasmanian researchers found that anything above 16% of the current National Standard increased the risk of hospital admissions for heart failure), dementia and children under 3 needing hospital emergency treatment.

This 98 sec World Health Organization Video explains how woodsmoke, and other particulate air pollution. affects our brains and hearts as well as our lungs. The particles are so small they behave like gases and enter our homes even when all doors and windows are shut – see graph below.  These measurements of indoor air are worse than living with a smoker. 

Modern efficient heater-air-conditioners are convenient, have lower running costs than buying firewood and also cause less global warming.

But sadly (as shown below) modern wood heaters are almost as polluting as the old ones.  The problem is that ‘standards’ can’t be changed without the agreement of the wood heating industry.  If you want to protect your family’s health, email about the proposed wood heater policy by 22 Aug. Ask for an effective strategy that helps residents affected by other people’s smoke and cleans up our air. New wood heaters shouldn’t be allowed unless they are guaranteed to be 90% cleaner than current models, which for Armidale's average of 4 tonnes firewood a year emit more health-hazardous pollution per year than 2,180 petrol cars each travelling 15,000 km/year (41 km every day) within the city boundary.

The Reality of New Wood-Heaters

Why does Armidale allow brand-new heaters like the ones in the pictures? 

If we can spend millions on the Mall & other infrastructure, why can’t we:

1) Make sure everyone understands the effect of woodsmoke on our health (including the increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung diseases, cancers, and children’s ill-health).  When residents of Launceston learned the facts, a majority chose to switch to non-polluting heating and enjoyed 28% fewer deaths in winter from respiratory disease & 20% fewer from cardiovascular diseases.

2) Require new houses to be energy-efficient and warm in winter without the need for a wood stove. Allowing new wood heaters (shown by New Zealand researchers to have similar real-life emissions to older models) will make our problems worse.

3) Provide residents with case studies on the savings and reductions in global warming from using modern, efficient heater-air-conditioners (especially in conjunction with other improvements in energy efficiency) compared to the ever-increasing costs of buying firewood

4) Respond promptly when residents who are affected by other people's smoke ask for help.  By approving their installation, council is responsible for the health damage caused by wood-heater smoke.  To reduce the cost of taking action, council should encourage residents and its own employees to report problems and observations of excessively polluting chimneys.   

5) Ensure all neighbours likely to be affected by the smoke are consulted before new stoves are installed. An asthmatic child, or a couple wishing to start a family, might live downwindSadly, the current ‘standard’ is so lax, because it cannot be changed without the agreement of those who make money from wood heating industry. Consequently, the average new wood heater emits more health-hazardous pollution per year than 1,900 petrol cars.  Even a 90% reduction in emissions would be insufficient to protect our health. All residents wishing to install new heaters should therefore be required to sign a declaration that if monitoring shows unhealthy levels of pollution due to the operation of the heater, they will instead use non-polluting heating.  New wood heaters in the Armidale urban area should be limited to to the cleanest possible replacements for existing heaters. For example, there are 19 stoves on the market with emissions ratings of no more than 0.5 grams of PM2.5 per kg of firewood burned, 8 stoves with ratings of 0.4 g/kg or less and two rated 0.3 g/kg or less.

6) Develop an effective strategy to clean up our air and meet National Air Quality standards, including subsidies for non-polluting replacements, similar or better than the $1,500 available in Muswellbrook and Singleton (which as shown above have much cleaner air than Armidale).

7) Demand a health-based standard for wood heaters, similar or better than the Canterbury 1 standard in New Zealand.  Environment Canterbury introduced new tests and emissions limits because, as shown below, the the former joint Aus/NZ standard failed to reduce real-life emissions and protect public health. 

The ineffectiveness of new heater standards is shown by the graph below, in which average emissions of heaters rated 0.6, 0.8 and 0.9 grams/kg firewood were all higher than those rated 1.2 g/kg. 

Council received a total of 23 submissions on its draft wood heater policy. They are summarized on the aaqg website.

A survey in Armidale and New England in 2012 show that almost 60% of respondents not using wood heaters experienced problems with wood heater smoke from other houses.   The 50% of Armidale households without wood heaters need a fair go!