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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 17 March 2010) . . Page.. 1037 ..

Another of those actions is the “don’t burn tonight” campaign, through which we ask people to use alternative heating sources to wood on those cold, still days where the weather conditions prevent quick dispersal of any wood smoke. This is still a strong component of reducing wood smoke and improving air quality under those climatic conditions. The program, which is entirely voluntary, encourages people to act responsibly. The campaign runs during June, July and August each year and the “don’t burn tonight” snippets are played on the radio and TV, as well as displayed on the department’s website. To put this campaign in marketing parlance, it combines real-time information and an immediate call to action.

The ACT government is meeting with some success by working through industry and with local firewood retailers. The Environment Protection Authority licenses all firewood retailers, who are only able to sell dry, seasoned timber and must provide consumers with information on how to operate their heater correctly, by way of a fact sheet which is also available on my department’s website. Both of these conditions relate specifically to reducing air pollution.

What is particularly pleasing about this is that the total tonnage of firewood sold in the ACT has reduced dramatically over the past decade, from about 20,000 tonnes down to about 10,000 tonnes per annum at the moment. That would indicate again a reduction in the use of firewood and therefore a reduction in the total number of wood heaters in the territory. We cannot be absolutely sure of this, of course, and it may be that some Canberrans are fuel substituting or not using registered firewood merchants to obtain their fuel source. We do know that some Canberrans choose to seek out fuel themselves; travel over the border—perhaps they have a friend or a relative with a farm—and are able to secure timber in that way. But, overall, the figures would seem to suggest that there is an absolute reduction in the total amount of firewood sold and that would appear to correlate with the commensurate reduction in the number of days where we are exceeding the national pollution standards.

Given all this, there is, I still believe, more work that we can do and therefore I have asked my department—indeed I directed my department last year—to investigate our current wood smoke reduction measures to look at the delivery of our current programs, opportunities for new programs and the possibilities of stronger education programs to minimise particulate pollution. That investigation will cover the issues that have been raised by Ms Bresnan and will involve consultation.

I have also met with representatives of the wood heater industry and they themselves wish to be more actively involved in educating consumers about safe and appropriate operation of wood heaters. That is something that I will be pursuing further and asking my department to ensure is followed up.

I turn to the issue of reporting. I understand that real-time PM2.5 and PM10 are not available with our current air monitoring equipment. The equipment used by Health Protection Services, ACT Health, meets the standards required for air monitoring and reporting but the information gathered needs to be analysed and assessed before it is in a usable form. There are significant technical issues which would need to be addressed before real-time data—that is on a daily or even a weekly basis—could be reported; and then only PM10 data is likely to be available in that format.

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