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Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Air - NSW overview

Reducing wood smoke emissions

Wood smoke pollution

Smoke from wood heaters is a major cause of air pollution. In fact, during winter, wood heaters can produce up to seven times as much particle pollution as cars. Not only is a smoking fire wasting your money, but the air pollution it causes can also affect our health.

That's why we need to change the way we use our heaters.

Wood smoke contains a number of noxious gases (including carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and a range of organic compounds, some of which are toxic or carcinogenic) and fine particles, which go deep into the lungs.

Table 1 shows the annual emissions contribution of domestic solid fuel combustion to total (i.e. human and natural derived sources) annual emissions of air pollutants in the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR) and Sydney Region. Refer to Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in NSW for a detailed description of sources, pollutants and regions.

It indicates that domestic solid fuel combustion contributes a significant proportion of many of the air pollutants listed.

Table 1

Annual emissions contribution (%) of residential wood heaters*
Air pollutantGreater metropolitan regionSydney region

1,3-Butadiene

20

21

Acetaldehyde

14

32

Ammonia (NH3)

4

5

Benzene

15

17

Carbon monoxide (CO)

6

16

Formaldehyde

33

38

Isomers of xylene

1

1

Lead & compounds

1

5

Oxides of nitrogen (NOx)

<0.5

1

Particulate matter ≤ 10 µm (PM10)

6

28

Particulate matter ≤ 2.5 µm (PM2.5)

19

47

Polychlorinated dioxins & furans (PCDD & PCDF)

13

39

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)

32

35

Sulfur dioxide (SO2)

<0.5

1

Toluene

1

1

Total suspended particulate (TSP)

2

14

Volatile organic compounds (VOC)

3

5

*Source: Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in NSW

 

These pollutants can cause breathing difficulties even at relatively low levels, especially for people suffering existing respiratory conditions, such as asthmatics, and for very young children and frail older people.

There is also evidence that smoke pollution can cause cardiac problems.

If you can see or smell smoke from your wood heater then you are causing a problem for yourself, your family and your neighbours.

Contribution of wood smoke to air particle pollution

Wood smoke is a significant source of particle pollution, which can often be seen as a brown atmospheric haze on still, cool, winter mornings.

In the GMR, domestic solid fuel combustion contributes 6% and 19% of annual PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively. The contribution of wood smoke is highest in July, making up 18% and 44% of monthly PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively.

Figures 1 and 2 below show the average monthly emissions by sector and the contribution of domestic solid fuel combustion to total emissions of PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively in the GMR.

Figure 1: Monthly PM10 emissions in the GMR*

Monthly PM10 emissions in the Greater Metropolitan Region

*Source: Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in NSW

Figure 2: Monthly PM2.5 emissions in the GMR*

Monthly PM2.5 emissions in the Greater Metropolitan Region

*Source: Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in NSW

In the Sydney region, domestic solid fuel combustion contributes 28% and 47% of annual PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively. The contribution of wood smoke is highest in July, making up 57% and 75% of monthly PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively.

Figures 3 and 4 below show the average monthly emissions by sector and the contribution of domestic solid fuel combustion to total emissions of PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively in the Sydney region.

Figure 3: Monthly PM10 emissions in the Sydney region*

Monthly PM10 emissions in the Sydney region

*Source: Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in NSW

Figure 4: Monthly PM2.5 emissions in the Sydney region*

Monthly PM2.5 emissions in the Sydney region

*Source: Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in NSW

In rural and regional areas in NSW where the climate is colder and wood heater ownership and usage is higher, the contribution of wood smoke to particle pollution would be higher than the GMR and Sydney region.

Influence of topography and the weather

Weather patterns during the winter months, together with the increase in wood smoke, influence air quality.

Wind, temperature and sunlight all have an impact on the movement and dispersion of particle pollution. Temperature inversions, where pollution is trapped in a cold layer of air at ground level, can also have an impact.

The topography of the Sydney Basin (and to a lesser degree that of the Illawarra and the lower Hunter) can also affect the dispersion of pollutants.

Community concern

EPA community research has consistently found air quality is the second most important environmental issue to NSW residents, following water issues.

Wood smoke pollution from neighbouring chimneys is the source of many complaints to local councils throughout NSW.

Page last updated: 11 July 2013