With winter upon us, so too are the increasing levels of wood smoke in the air. We know that approximately 5-10% of Australian households use a wood heater as their main form of heating, which means that thousands of children are exposed to toxic smoke in their own home and in their neighbourhoods.
Multiple studies find an association between increased rates of childhood illness and particle pollution. Children are more impacted by air pollution because of their size (they breathe more air per kilo of body weight) and because their immune systems and organs are still developing. New Zealand research finds that for every new modern wood heater per hectare there is a 7% increase that a child under 3 years will end up in emergency. A 2020 UK study found that real world use of wood heaters expose the household occupants to high levels of particle pollution every time they open the stove-door to add wood. In most states and territories, government policy prohibits the smoking of cigarettes within 10 metres of where children play, so why do governments continue to turn a blind eye to wood smoke? The health impacts of wood smoke pollutants – including on infant mortality, preterm birth, childhood asthma, other respiratory conditions and brain development - are well established in thousands of publications. So who is informing parents of the risks to their children's health (and the health of their neighbours) from using a wood heater? We have health warnings on cigarette packets, but where is the warning label on wood heaters? It is time that our governments put the health of children first, inform people of the harms of wood smoke and support households to phase out this toxic form of home heating.