AIR POLLUTION STORIES
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Wood smoke is a year-round problem - January 2023
We live in a built-up outer suburb of Adelaide. The back of our property adjoins a household who have both a wood heater and an outdoor fireplace he apparently uses for cooking. I used to only notice the smoke occasionally, but I have a young child and as he has got sick I've noticed it a lot more. Despite my pleas to our neighbour and our council it appears that nothing can be done about the year-round wood smoke. On those warm summer evenings when most people like to open their house up to let it cool down overnight - we have to keep our doors and windows shut. This is because our backyard neighbour loves to burn any time of the day or night. Unless you live nearby a wood heater it can be hard to explain how the experience can completely ruin your enjoyment of your home. I no longer garden or even sit outside. I spend a lot of my time working on ways to seal our home. I've put off doing any improvements to my home as what is the point - we continually debate moving - but it is complicated by many factors. The smoke often makes it difficult to hang out in our front yard and chat to our other neighbours - as it means standing around in the smoke. Even something as basic as watching a movie with my son in the evening is often marred by the smell of smoke in our home. People tell me to move - but it is not that easy - it is wrong that this happens all the time and people are forced to move. The last time I spoke to my wood burning neighbour about it - he said it is a case of 'Buyer beware' in other words I should have somehow known he was a wood burner and not bought the house. If only people with wood heaters were required to have a notice on their fence - 'Wood burning appliance in use' - as there is no way we would have purchased our home.
Wood smoke is ruining the so-called 'country air' - March 2022
I have spent the last 8 years trying to escape wood smoke. I live in country Victoria. Most of my year is spent in a wood smoke 'lockdown'. I am unable to open windows, hang out washing or enjoy the outdoors. I experience chronic illness and I have severe asthma. In a good year I might get 4 weeks in a row around Jan or Feb without being exposed. Ironically I moved to the country for the fresh air. Big mistake. Wood smoke has actually been a major contributor to homelessness for me. This is because it is very difficult to find a rental home that is not surrounded by wood burning neighbours. So I have just got myself settled somewhere, the air seems pretty good and then it starts. If it is not the chimney smoke, it is the farmers burns, paddock burning, planned burns, CFA burns. It just never stops and so I have moved multiple times with all the expense that entails. So many people seem to be completely clueless about the issue or don't care. Forget about asking neighbours not to use the wood heater. They have electricity and often reverse cycle - but they prefer to burn wood. Wood smoke lockdowns for me have been frankly terrible and I just feel that no one cares, or even knows about the suffering this pollution causes.
The growing problem of wood smoke - Melbourne August 2021
My wife and I have lived in the northern metro Melbourne for over 45+ years and have experienced the changes with wood smoke firsthand. We have lived at our current home for 26 plus years and initially the wood smoke issue was only two residents that would burn during the winter. Over the past 10 years the number has grown to well over seven nearby properties which are within 300 meters of our home. There are many more within a 2 km radius. Every year for the past three to four years I have contacted council and the EPA to have this issue addressed with no result. Every year commencing from April to September we cannot go outside to enjoy some fresh air and are literally imprisoned 24/7 in our home. We can’t even enjoy a simple luxury of opening a window and get fresh air. Surely this should be looked at from a mental health situation?
I managed to get the Council Officer to send a letter to the residents in our area to ask they be a little more respectful of neighbours and be aware that some people have medical conditions, are trying to do their washing on a weekend when we have been at work late all week, etc. This seems to have had little effect as they continue to burn all hours of the day and evenings and well into the night. There are days when the smoke from their exhaust ducts drifts into a pocket of our back yard area and because the wind is still, the smoke just lingers for hours. They burn on days when the temp is around 18 degrees! It seems we are fighting a losing battle with Council/EPA. Surely there needs to be a fairer system for all.
Whilst I would like to see it banned, at least there should be some restrictions in respect to hours you can burn, and when the temperature is below a certain level, etc. Where is the equality in this matter for those who are affected by the continual burning of wood, which in some cases, I have witnessed people using materials which have been chemically treated and are a carcinogenic. There are challenges we are faced with which cannot be ignored and we all have to do better in order to save our planet. As the world’s population continues to grow we cannot sit back and continue doing what we did yesterday. It's no longer acceptable to wait another day, time for action is today or it may well be too late.
Choking to death! Western Australia - June 2021
I have a dyson air purifier and it stated that on most nights the air quality inside our home is anywhere from poor to extreme pm2.5 levels thanks to wood heaters from surrounding houses. Why aren't these dangerous, stinky nuisances banned?
Kids with asthma - Melbourne - January 2021
I have two kids with asthma and neighbours with wood heaters who use them as their sole source of heating. This has been an ongoing problem for 15 years. We never open our windows and we cannot use the backyard during the cooler months of the year.
When we first moved in we were quite friendly with the neighbours. When we noticed the smoke and raised it with them - they acted as if it were nothing and just our problem. Eventually we asked the Council to visit our neighbours - which they did a couple of times. The visits not only failed to achieve any reduction in the levels of smoke, but the visits aggravated our neighbours and they became very unpleasant towards us. Every visit further embedded their resentment and did nothing to reduce the smoke. My direct neighbour did not see the problem with turning down the air to the fire overnight - so that it smouldered and produced large plumes of smoke - and the Council couldn't be there at 11pm waiting for him to re-light the fire. We have looked into moving, but the kids get really upset to think about leaving their home. Not only that everyone seems to be putting them in - and we fear that we could sell up and move and end up in the same situation. So we have sealed up our house, and purchased expensive air filters which we use all winter. This has been a really stressful situation for our family.
Lockdown walks - Greensborough - March 2021
We started to notice wood smoke last winter during the lockdown in Melbourne. There was nothing much to do other than go for walks around the neighbourhood. I can't believe how smoky the air has become in our area. By the time we get home our clothes and hair stink of smoke. One day I made a passing comment to a guy on one of our walks about the smoke - he got really defensive - and told us to enjoy it and that it was good for our lungs! The smoke has really ruined our enjoyment of our neighbourhood.
Our neighbour grew up with wood heaters - Brunswick April 2021
We've been trying to get our neighbour to see reason for years over his wood heater. He lights it most afternoons and it smokes for hours - the smoke settles in our backyard and all down the side of our house. But it doesn't bother him - as the smoke drifts away from his house. He tells me - he grew up with wood heaters and it has never done him any harm. I've half-joked with him that perhaps he could vent it back into his house then. His adult son who lives with him is more reasonable - he has tried to get his dad to use the heater less. They've got a reverse cycle but the old guy prefers the wood heater. The Council have visited but say he is burning dry wood - so nothing they can do. Doesn't matter that we have young kids. I would just about be arrested if I smoked cigarettes around my kids - so I just don't understand why government allow them. It drives you crazy - I keep talking to the authorities - but no one seems to be listening.
Salt Spring Island BC Canada - April 2021
We had moved from the Big City to avoid all the air pollution, which came mostly from cars. What a SHOCK to find out that the lovely island we had visited every summer, when it became our full-time home, was a toxic wood smoke driven 24/7 nightmare. We have bylaws prohibiting smoking near schoolyards, on ferries and city-owned playground equipment. We are subjected to this archaic form of home heat, every single day and night- making it unbearable to enjoy our property and preventing us from exercising outdoors. We have spent thousands on air filters, medications, indoor exercise equipment, and trips "away" to escape the smoke. One suggestion is that no new homes ought to have wood stoves, propane is an excellent back-up solution when the power goes out. We had attempted to stop this when our neighbour was "allowed" to install a wood stove, after he had bought a new, well insulated home, very similar to our own. We had urged him not to, even after he was given the science regarding the health hazards he'd be subjecting his new baby to. He burns every single day. Neighbourhood children further compromise their health by regularly running around in thick clouds of this wood smoke. Electric heat pumps need to be encouraged. No new stoves should be allowed, they are simply too damaging to everyone’s health.
Surrounded by smoke - Canada - April 2021
Personally, the issue is twofold: first, my father - a climate scientist - continues to burn wood daily every winter, even though we are surrounded by other houses (one of which is owned by a family with young children). My mother has not urged him to stop either, which is concerning given she has a medical background. The second issue is that I live near farmers' fields, and every spring and autumn the farmers will pile up their crop waste and burn it. The resulting smoke fills the valley and spreads at least five kilometres in every direction. Sadly, I have come to expect smoky walks home from the local gym during the "transition" seasons. All of us are or have been affected by wood/biomass smoke in some way. Please: for your health and the health of others, DO NOT BURN BIOMASS unless absolutely necessary (i.e. in emergencies).