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Health impacts of wood smoke

This page provides a summary of the some the key research into the health impacts of wood smoke pollution.


Wood smoke consists of fine particles (mostly PM2.5 and ultrafine particles) that are so fine (30 times smaller than the width of a human hair) they can enter the lungs and bloodstream and affect every organ in the body. 


Wood smoke pollution causes or contributes to:


An EPA/NSW-Health study found that despite wood heaters being used by around 4% of Sydney residents the smoke emissions are estimated to cause 100 premature deaths per year in Sydney alone (Broome et al., 2020).

Who is at risk?

Wood smoke affects healthy people and those with health conditions. Research shows there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5 pollution (Hanigan et al., 2019). Even short-term exposure to wood smoke pollution can have health impacts on otherwise healthy people (Stockfelt, et al., 2012; Unosson et al., 2013; Barregard et al.,2006).

Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of particle pollution, which can affect lung and respiratory function and brain development (Cerbika et al., 2020). For people with asthma and respiratory illnesses, wood smoke can worsen respiratory symptoms (Bui et al., 2013). An Australian survey found those with asthma are twice as likely to experience respiratory symptoms when exposed to wood heater smoke compared to the general population (Asthma Australia, 2021).

Education is needed

Each wood heater in Australia contributes to an estimated $3800 in health costs per year (Robinson, 2011). While cigarette smoking has been the focus of Australian education campaigns, there is minimal education on the very similar health harms of wood smoke pollution. The low level of health literacy in the community about the health impacts is  ensuring the ongoing harm to the population's health.

Research reports

Below is a small sample of the recent studies into the impact of wood smoke pollution on human health. For a more complete list refer to the website of the US organisation Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution

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