Asthma Australia says the New South Wales Government’s Clean Air Strategy does not adequately address one of the biggest sources of air pollution and a major cause of asthma, domestic woodfire heaters, despite other progressive measures being made for our air.
“There are positive steps in the strategy that will achieve cleaner air, in the future,” said Kathy Packenas, Acting CEO of Asthma Australia. “But we hoped to see a reduction of smoke in the air this winter. Addressing woodfire heaters would clean up the air significantly and reduce asthma, yet this is where the Strategy under delivers. This Strategy will not help people with asthma breathe better this winter,” she said.
Domestic woodfired heater smoke is the leading human-made source of the unhealthy air pollutant PM2.5 (fine particular matter) in Sydney and is directly linked to increases in asthma symptoms and Emergency Department visits.
The peak asthma advocacy group says the positives in the strategy are to be commended and include the Government’s plans to boost monitoring and forecasting of air quality, particularly during bushfires and hazard reduction burn season, as well as improving air quality forecasting which will help people with asthma plan their activities and minimise the chance of getting sick.
“Access to live air quality data is essential – especially in regional areas which often lack local data – so we’re very pleased to see this commitment,” Ms Packenas said. “We aim to help people understand how to use this data in their everyday life through our AirSmart pilot program.”
“The NSW Government’s broader focus on reduced greenhouse emissions will also improve air quality over time.”
Asthma Australia intends to continue working with the New South Wales Government to advocate to phase out woodfire heaters with evidence showing the majority of people support government regulation to incentivise households to choose cleaner, healthier alternatives.
An Asthma Australia survey (2021) of 25,000 people showed 77% of the population agree woodfire heaters should not be allowed in built-up areas, and more than half agreed they should be phased out (55%) . Support for stricter regulation was higher (84%) amongst people with asthma, and 71% support to phase them out completely.
“The smoke from woodfired heaters is a significant human-made contributor to years of life lost in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Area. This cause of pollution and the associated costly harmful health issues needs to be addressed,” Ms Packenas said.
Asthma Australia’s recommendations for the NSW Clean Air Strategy included the introduction of a subsidy scheme to help residents who wish to replace woodfire heaters with efficient reverse cycle air conditioners. Further recommendations supported phasing out woodfire heaters, including prohibiting installation of woodfire heaters in new homes and requiring removal when homes with the heaters are sold.
“These subsidy schemes are not new – the ACT and Victoria already have them – so it’s puzzling that the Government doesn’t think they would work in New South Wales,” Ms Packenas explained.
“Air pollution is not a trivial issue and the health impacts shouldn’t be ignored. In particular, people with asthma are often the first to be affected by air pollution, with their flareups potentially leading to hospitalisation and even death.”