Last updated on 28/06/2021

woodfire smokeDarryl’s been campaigning against residential woodsmoke for over 20-years. He knows from personal experience the health impacts it can have.

Hi, my name is Darryl, and every winter my neighbourhood is filled with smoke.

I never knew the real danger of residential woodsmoke until my wife and I moved to Canberra in the early 90’s. Our home, like many homes built at the time, had a slow combustion wood heater. Not knowing the potential health risk, we spent the cold winters enjoying the warm comfort of a fire.

That was until one winter, when our young daughter was rushed to hospital with a severe lung infection. She spent 10-days in an oxygen tent battling to breathe. When my wife and I finally got her home, our relief was short lived with our young son developing the same symptoms.

We rushed back to the hospital, and he was immediately admitted for a similar lung infection. He later developed asthma. We felt the wood heater contributed to our kids getting sick. Our paediatrician warned wood heaters can leak smoke and living with a wood heater was like living with a cigarette smoker. We were devastated. We thought we were doing the right thing, using the wood heater properly with the right wood, keeping it maintained and trying to reduce the amount of smoke emitting from the chimney. Instead, we had endangered the health of our two young children.

Since then, I’ve been trying to raise awareness of the health impact from wood heaters with local politicians and trying to convince people in my community to change to a cleaner more efficient form of home heating. It’s still a big problem in my community with many wood heaters in use today that do not meet any emissions standards having been installed over 30-years ago.

Where I live, in the south of Canberra, we experience some of the worst air pollution in the whole city when the days get colder and people fire up their wood heaters. I have a weather station in my backyard, it’s one of about 20 in Canberra that are part of the PurpleAir and Weather Underground worldwide network.

When the temperature drops in Canberra, I regularly record hazardous levels of residential wood smoke pollution in my neighbourhood for about five to six months of the year. The levels here can be higher than those recorded by the official ACT Government air pollution monitor at nearby Monash.

Last year my stations’ air pollution monitor was off the scale for about several days during the black summer bushfires. Then everyone realized the smoke from the bushfires was dangerous, but what I want people to understand is that smoke from a wood heater can be just as dangerous and is an issue during the cooler months of the year. I don’t have asthma, but I’m deeply concerned about the impact residential woodsmoke had on my kids and how it’s affecting many others.

I have elderly friends who spend the cooler months of the year trapped at home – suffering in silence. They have a pre-existing health condition and if they venture outside with woodsmoke around more than likely they will end up in hospital. All they want to do is lead normal lives and walk outside to breathe clean, crisp Canberra air.

If you have a woodfire heater, please consider making the switch to a healthier heating alternative this winter. You could really make a difference.

This Winter, we’re asking you to help us raise awareness about the health impact on woodfire heater smoke. Share this story and help us support people with asthma to live freely. Asthma Australia would like to thank Darryl for sharing his story. Your story will inspire others to share theirs. 

Do you have a story to tell? Become an Asthma Champion today.