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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 18 June 2009) . . Page.. 2590 ..


concerned that the air quality in winter is yet, unfortunately, to qualify as acceptable. Wood smoke is comprised of a number of chemicals similar to tobacco smoke that are associated with health problems, including respiratory diseases, particularly the aggravation of asthma, colds and flu, heart attacks, some forms of cancer and middle ear infections. Studies show that wood smoke reduces the ability of lungs to fight off infection, so people get more colds and flu and require more time off work or school to recover.

Of particular concern are the fine particles emitted, because they are the ones that cause the most damage. The particles are so small that they infiltrate the smallest recesses of people’s lungs, where they cause inflammation which leads to heart and lung disease. According to the World Health Organisation, there is no safe level of fine particle pollution. In June 1998, recognising the importance of air quality, the National Environment Protection Council prescribed the ambient air quality national environment protection measures, which set uniform standards across Australia for ambient air quality. Measurements relevant to the Tuggeranong Valley are taken at the Monash station. Measurements taken include particulate matter less than 10 and less than 2.5 microns in size, which are often referred to as PM10 or PM2.5.

Reports to the Australian government associate PM10 with adverse health effects, including respiratory problems, aggravation of asthma, increased hospital admissions and premature death. The risk is highest for the elderly, children and people with asthma or heart disease. The national standard for PM10 requires levels below 50 micrograms per metre cubed. The Monash station measurements show that we exceeded that five times in 2007, two of which were attributed to wood smoke from burning for winter heating and the other three to bushfires or hazard reduction burning. Even if we take out the bushfires, we see that the high levels of the pollution happened during the Canberra winter, especially in June, because people get cold and light their fires. The government have recently argued through the estimates committee process that measures of Canberra’s air quality have, in fact, been improving over the last few years. I would appreciate an explanation from them of the basis of that claim, because if you look at the PM10 readings since 1999 you see that, while things have not actually got a lot worse, they have not really got better either.

With regard to PM2.5, which is an even smaller particulate matter, the New South Wales Chief Health Officer, Denise Robinson, told the public inquiry at Parliament House in 2006 that between 600 and 1,400 deaths each year could be attributed at least partially to Sydney’s air quality. The pollution of most concern was PM2.5. International research has also confirmed that PM2.5 is the pollution most likely to be linked with adverse health effects. Unfortunately, the measurements of PM2.5 at the Monash station prior to April 2007 have been declared invalid. This is because, apparently, the measuring equipment was set up too close to the temperature or humidity measuring equipment. It is a real shame that we do not have the data.

While the government is developing its response to wood smoke pollution and the Tuggeranong council’s concerns, I think it is important to take a triple-bottom-line approach to this. It is not a black-and-white problem. The solutions are not all easy and straightforward. Some wood heaters can well be considered inefficient, but not all wood heaters are in fact a problem. If you have an efficient wood heater, use it


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