Asthma Australia wants people to live in communities where we are supported to live healthy lives and can breathe healthy air. While Australians have largely enjoyed breathing clean air in the past, many of us experience seasonal air pollution as a result of wood heater use, hazard reduction burning or agricultural burning. Air quality is also deteriorating as climate change is causing more frequent and prolonged bushfires become, increased levels of ozone at ground level and increased pollen production. We can also be exposed to air pollution in the home caused by gas cooktops and heaters or mould, which is also becoming more common as a result of climate change. Air pollution is also caused by the emissions responsible for climate change, including coal fired power station and vehicle emissions.
People with asthma are among those particularly vulnerable to air pollution which can trigger asthma symptoms and exacerbations which may require hospitalisation and can be life-threatening. Some air pollutants can cause people to develop asthma. The impacts of air pollution extend beyond individuals with asthma to their carers, families, communities, schools and workplaces – even our healthcare system and the broader economy.
Asthma Australia’s air quality advocacy focuses on the issues that matter most to people with asthma and their carers and for which there is the strongest evidence of harm. In addition, we regularly support the advocacy efforts of our fellow clean air supporters. Asthma Australia is committed to taking actions that will improve the air quality for people with asthma, and all people in Australia.
Click here to tell us what action you’d like us to take to address air quality.
We talked to Ch7 News in July 2023 about the failing air quality in Queensland schools. A statewide audit showed every school had at least one classroom that failed health standards. Windows were found to be sealed shut, fans broken and many more hazards. As our CEO Michele Goldman told Ch7 News this poor air “travels into our airways and it can trigger a response where our airways narrow, making it difficult to breathe.”
We all want to live in communities where we are healthy, well and can breathe clean air. However, the 2019-20 bushfires caused prolonged periods of air pollution which exposed 80% of people in Australia to bushfire smoke. Bushfire smoke contains numerous pollutants including fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is especially concerning because the tiny particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and blood stream, causing many health problems. People with asthma are particularly vulnerable to PM2.5 exposure. Asthma Australia seeks to prevent and protect people from the impacts of exposure to air pollution caused by bushfires.
Asthma Australia has made the following submissions on the 2019–20 bushfires:
- Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, June 2020 (Federal)
- Lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019-2020, Senate Standing Committees on Finance and Public Administration, May 2020 (Federal)
- Inquiry into the health impacts of exposure to poor levels of air quality resulting from bushfires and drought, Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 2 – Health, May 2020 (NSW)
Click here to tell us what action you’d like us to take to address bushfire smoke.
Woodfire heater smoke
Woodfire heater smoke is a risk factor for developing asthma and triggering symptoms in people who already have asthma. It is also a risk factor for other respiratory illnesses, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, premature birth, and premature death. Woodfire heater smoke contains harmful pollutants known as particulate matter that are easily breathed in and enter the body via the lungs. The small particles or PM2.5 in woodfire smoke are especially dangerous, and there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5 – this means even low levels of PM2.5 can trigger asthma symptoms and cause health impacts. This has a direct health impact on people with asthma, from increased symptoms to hospitalisation – greatly impacting their ability to live freely in our communities. In some parts of Australia, woodfire heater smoke is the largest source of winter air pollution even though just 7% of Australian homes rely on woodfires as a main source of heating. While home heating can be vital during the colder months, it shouldn’t cause health problems for neighbours.
With healthier heating alternatives available, Asthma Australia wants to see woodfire heaters phased out. We know it is expensive to switch to efficient, reverse cycle air conditioning, and this is where governments need to step in – and the Australian public agrees with us. In a nationally representative survey of 25,000 people completed in November 2020, Asthma Australia asked the Australian public about their attitudes to woodfire heaters and their regulation. We found most people, particularly those with asthma, support leaving woodfire heaters behind for better, healthier alternatives. Three-quarters of the general population (77%) agree that woodfire heaters should not be allowed in urban or built-up areas and over half agree they should be phased out (55%) or banned completely (54%). Support for regulation was even higher amongst people with asthma with 84% support for regulation of woodfire heaters in urban built-up areas, 71% support for a scheme to phase them out completely, and 65% agreeing they should be banned. People who are exposed to woodfire heaters said they are largely unable to protect themselves from the smoke, further demonstrating the need for government regulation.
Asthma Australia has a number of policy recommendations to minimise the harm caused by woodfire heater smoke which is detailed in our wood fire smoke policy position.
Our survey has confirmed what people with asthma have been telling us for years: government and community action is needed to switch towards healthier heating options.
Want to help?
VICTORIA AND ACT
Access or promote wood fire heater replacement schemes by SHARING OUR FLYER: Download it here. Distribute our flyer in your neighbourhood or online—it encourages people using wood fire heaters to take up replacement schemes available in the ACT and Victoria. You may wish to leave them in mailboxes in your neighbourhood, share them at your local community event, or share them on social media.
If you live in Victoria or the Australian Capital Territory, you may be eligible for access to a wood fire heater replacement scheme. These schemes offer subsidies to people who want to replace their wood fire heaters (or gas or electric heaters, in Victoria) with reverse cycle air conditioning. In addition to being better for air quality, reverse cycle air conditioning is the most efficient way to heat your home – and it cools in summer!
You can access information about these schemes, including eligibility criteria, through the links below. We encourage you to share these links with your family, friends and your community, including through your personal or community Facebook pages.
ALL OTHER STATES
ALL OTHER STATES: Contact your state government representative
A draft letter can be downloaded here – we encourage you to personalise it with your own experience and concerns and send it to your local state government representative so they can see the importance of supporting a wood fire heater replacement scheme. You can find the contact details to your local representative at the links below.
Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Explain the health impact this is having on you or your loved one’s asthma. Your story will help us advocate for reforms to help people with asthma in our submissions to governments or meetings with decision-makers. We are happy to share this anonymously.
How gas is harming our health
In May 2021, Asthma Australia helped launch a groundbreaking new report by the Climate Council called ‘Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming our Health’.
Gas cooking has been compared to smoking indoors
Evidence provided in a report from the Climate Council has found the effect of gas cooking in the home is comparable to the effect of smoking indoors on childhood asthma and is estimated to be responsible for up to 12 percent of the childhood asthma burden in Australia. This is comparable to an analysis of childhood asthma and household smoking, where the incidence of childhood asthma is between 14-30% more likely.
Gas cooktops and heaters are known to produce contaminants that increase the risk of childhood asthma: in particular, nitrogen dioxide and certain forms of particulate matter, like PM2.5. These substances are invisible and mostly odourless, making them hard to detect or recognise as a threat to human health.
The ‘Kicking the Gas Habit’ report details how gas extraction and consumption is directly impacting the health of Australians today and driving climate change.
This Report makes recommendations to help:
- Transition Australia out of gas production;
- Families, schools, and workplaces move off gas; and
- Improve gas safety in Australia.
In addition to detailing the health impacts of household gas use, the Report reveals that gas extraction and processing involves many hazardous substances including those that may cause cancer, interfere with hormones and trigger asthma. Gas development can contaminate the local environment through airborne pollution and wastewater.
Asthma Australia supports the switch to cleaner, healthier sources of household energy that do not contribute to the burden of asthma, create other unnecessary health risks or contaminate the environment. We want to see better education on air pollution in our community and support for people to protect themselves from its negative impacts.
To read more on gas being a trigger for asthma, please click here.
To read ways to kick the gas habit, please click here.
Click here to tell us what action you’d like us to take to address gas as a trigger for asthma.
Asthma Australia is proud to support the Climate Council ‘Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming our Health – 2021” Report.
What We’re Doing About It
On 22 November 2022 -Asthma Australia, as a member of the Global Cooksafe Coalition, supported the release of the new report ‘The Future of Cooking is Electric’ – for better health inside our homes and to reduce the impact of burning gas on climate change. The Global Cooksafe Coalition is the first of its kind and seeks to transition cooking globally away from harmful fuels like gas and solid fuels towards electric cooking. In the Australian context, this means transitioning from gas cooktops to electric alternatives like induction cooktops.
The Global Cooksafe Coalition’s asks include:
- By at least 2030, all new kitchens in OECD countries will use energy efficient electric cooking appliances, powered by a rapidly decarbonising grid or distributed renewable energy.
- By at least 2040, all existing kitchens in OECD countries will use energy efficient electric cooking appliances, powered by a rapidly decarbonising grid or distributed renewable energy.
Research shows that children living in a home with gas stoves have a 42% increased risk of having current asthma, and a 24% greater chance of being diagnosed with asthma at some point in life. Asthma Australia is proud to join leading organisations to support a move away from gas to healthier alternatives.