Asthma Foundation NSW has urged Standards Australia to take action against wood heaters, one of the largest hidden sources of air pollution in Australia.

Standards Australia is currently preparing to deliver a new standard for wood heaters for the first time in 20 years. Asthma Foundation NSW has called on Standards Australia to impose a wood stoves emissions standard that brings Australia in line with the rest of the world.

Wood heaters are more polluting to the atmosphere than tobacco or motor vehicles during the winter months. For instance, the average new wood heater in the colder areas of NSW emits as much PM2.5 pollution as 370 new diesel SUVs, each travelling 20,000 km per year.

NSW EPA states that the estimated 83,000 wood heaters in Sydney produce up to 73 per cent of air pollution in the winter months. In regional centres such as Armidale, wood heaters are responsible for upwards of 80 per cent of pollution, and going over 90 per cent in Launceston, Tasmania.

Michele Goldman, CEO of Asthma Foundation NSW explains that wood smoke contains noxious gases, such as Carbon Monoxide and Nitrogen Dioxide, organic compounds and fine particles (PM2.5 and smaller) that go deep into the lungs, causing heart problems, respiratory diseases and cancer. Scientific testing has in fact shown wood smoke to be more hazardous than cigarette smoke.

Ms Goldman says that Australia’s current standard of four grams of particulate matter per kilogram burned (4g/kg) and no efficiency standard is way behind New Zealand who moved to 1.5g/kg and a 65 per cent efficiency standard a decade ago.

Standards Australia is reviewing the current standards governing wood heaters following a damning report by the NSW Government’s Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Options for wood smoke control in NSW’, which estimates wood heaters alone will add an additional $8 billion to the NSW health budget in the next 20 years – $22,000 for every one of the 360,000 wood heaters in the state.

Asthma Foundation NSW is presently urging the Federal Government to pass new regulations to retire older models, limit the emissions from new models and provide better education for those using wood burning stoves.

According to Ms Goldman, Australia has the toughest tobacco laws in the world and has also imposed strict new standards on new SUV vehicles to reduce deadly PM2.5 emissions by more than 99 per cent since 1989. However, in the case of wood heaters, the NSW Government has passed on responsibility for this urgent and pressing health concern to ill-equipped local councils when it has a number of cost neutral options that could dramatically reduce winter pollution levels and drastically reduce the health bill.

Three key recommendations made by the Asthma Foundation that would reduce wood smoke health costs by 75 per cent include removal of existing heaters that do not meet a health-based standard when houses are offered for sale; not allowing the installation of new heaters that do not meet a health-based standard and a tax on all wood heaters that do not meet current standards; and licensing fees to cover the cost of wood smoke-reduction programs with assistance for people whose health or lifestyle has been affected by wood smoke.

Standards Australia is awaiting final approvals before making an announcement about the new standards for wood heaters. Ms Goldman added they were however, disappointed with the Standards Australia terms of reference as the review was limited to technical considerations, rather than health, which was the key issue.

Based on the report, Asthma Foundation will consider requesting a further review of the standard from a health perspective, with appropriate health and environmental representatives on the committee.