Lisa Neville: Please Help Stop Wood-smoke Impacting on My Already Inflamed Airways

Dear, Lisa Neville, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water

Each winter, my health is impacted on by my neighbours’ wood-smoke from their wood heaters. Not only does the woodsmoke make me ill for days at a time but it also makes my life and that of my family’s difficult: we have to seal our windows with masking tape to keep the smoke out; we can’t run the exhausts fans in the bathroom unless someone outside the bathroom can tape up and seal cracks around the door due to the backdraft of woodsmoke that comes in; some nights, I have to sleep with a 3M filter mask over my face to protect my airways; we can’t leave our washing outside, nor can we go outside for long—most days, I can’t go outside at all—because the wood-smoke particles permeate into our hair and clothing, effecting my airways when we come in.
It’s not the sharp acrid smell that is the problem; rather, it’s the chemicals in the wood-smoke.
Many of which are proven to be chemical irritants that harm people with asthma, immune disorders and lung issues. My doctor, Immunologist and Allergist, Dr Colin Little, has tested and found me to be chemically sensitive to the irritants in wood-smoke. It’s like an allergy, however, the mechanisms are different. My only defence against the response my immune system has to woodsmoke is to avoid it. I can’t. And this winter it is making me feel miserable and insignificant — on top of the wood-smoke impacting on my health!
I have moved house, once because of neighbours’ wood-smoke, and I’ve changed my whole lifestyle just to try and manage my condition. Woodsmoke is not the only chemical irritant I have to manage, or try to avoid, but it is the only one that makes its way into my home without consent. I cannot describe how painful it is to wake in the night with no tears, saliva or mucus, due to neighbour’s lighting up nearby, and realising that I forgot to seal around the windows, and knowing I will suffer in pain for the next few days because of it. My airways, sting and burn and it hurts to breathe when wood-smoke is in the air; and due to this inflammation of my airways, the headaches and sinus pain that follow, my life must be put on hold until I recover.
This year, I’ve been ill for most of winter already due to wood-smoke in the air.
We are trying to build a new home that is allergy-free for me, however, if someone builds next door, installing a new wood heater, I’ll have no clean air to breathe, once again. I can’t ask them not to burn wood, allowing PM2.5 particles into the air. I can’t complain to council because unless the neighbour is burning incorrectly then they are in their complete right to do so. My health will continue to suffer greatly if this happens; and this time, I won’t be able to up and move again.
I find it difficult to understand in this age of human evolution how people with health conditions are allowed to suffer under the barbaric practice of burning wood for heat.
There are children with asthma who can’t speak for themselves: Minister, you need to be their voice. Our voice. Please.
Please support stricter air pollution standards and save $18 billion in health costs by implementing 3 measures to solve wood heater pollution at the 15 July meeting, improving our health and saving many lives per year.
The vast majority of respondents to the government consultation wanted an annual PM2.5 limit of 6 ug/m3.  This standard is achievable, if the 3 wood heater pollution measures are implemented, and would save the lives of about 700 Australians every year.
Please, as our elected representative, make public health your priority.  Please support the annual PM2.5 standard of 6 ug/m3 and allow it to protect large and small communities by requiring PM2.5 to be measured in all communities with more than 5,000 inhabitants if there is evidence (e.g. from optical particle counters) that the standard is likely to be exceeded.
A 6 ug/m3 PM2.5 standard can be achieved if we fix the wood heater pollution problem.  Emissions limits for other sources of pollution (e.g. cars) are set by the government.  The same should apply to domestic wood heaters. The Committee that set current ‘standards’ had no health experts and was powerless to make any real improvements because the wood-heating industry is allowed to veto any proposed changes.

As might be expected from such a flawed process, the current wood heater test doesn’t measure real-life emissions  The average new wood heater (that meets the current flawed ‘standard’) emits more PM2.5 per year than 1,000 petrol cars and has estimated health costs of thousands of dollars per year.  This meaningless ‘standard’ should be withdrawn immediately and a task force set up to develop a replacement test that measures real-life emissions and to set an appropriate emissions limit that will safeguard public health.Despite being used in Sydney as the main form of heating by less than 5% of households, the NSW EPA estimates that domestic wood heaters are responsible for more than half of all Sydney’s PM2.5 emissions over the entire year. A consultancy report for the NSW EPA estimated that woodsmoke is an $8.1 health problems in NSW, but that 3 simple measures

1) not allowing new wood heaters to be installed (until a new health-based wood-heater standard has been developed)
2) phasing out wood heaters when houses are sold
3) licencing fees to fund education programs, assist residents whose health or lifestyle is affected by other people’s woodsmoke and provide funds to replace wood stoves with non-polluting alternatives
could not only reduce the $8 billion health costs in NSW ($20-$24 billion for the whole of Australia) by at least 75% but also allow the 6 ug/m3 PM2.5 standard (that would save about 700 lives per year) to be achieved.
Please therefore support a 6 ug/m3 PM2.5 standard and the 3 measures listed above that will together reduce health costs in Australia by almost $20 billion and save 700 lives per year.
To verify the above facts, please see
Thanks you for your efforts which will ensure a cleaner, healthier future for all Australians.
Michellina van Loder
Professional Writer, Author, Journalist, Blogger
and PW&E Student @ Victoria University
Author of Build an Allergy-free, Eco-Friendly House
Labyrinth eBook, Web and Literary Services
B:  The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out
Airquality Australia

The Lung Foundation Australia: Woodsmoke Harms Your Lungs

Asthma Australia: Woodfire Heaters

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

About Michellina van Loder


  1. Pat says:

    A worse kind of silliness is the prevalent burning of treated timbers like palletts, packing cases, fencing and decking timbers etc. Aside from the chemical fallout from treatment chemicals themselves, their presence in burning woods works as a catalyst massively increasing the amount of dioxins etc emitted.

  2. I find disgusting how so many “so called” decent people and even health officials ignore a reasonable health complaint in favor of the right of a few wood burners to smoke neighbors out with an necessary and outdated silliness like burning wood. If you have gas, USE IT.

  3. Linda Baker Beaudin Founder Air Is Precious says:

    It is beyond unfortunate and totally incomprehensible to think that any community would continue to allow woodburning devices to pollute community air, air that is shared by everyone. Knowing there is no safe level of smoke to breathe it is imperative that policy makers, political leaders, Mayors, council/board members and all Health Units address this toxic airborne form of negative pollution…woodsmoke with the same measures/policies taken to address first-hand cigarette-smoke, second-hand cigarette-smoke and even third-hand cigarette-smoke. Woodsmoke contains many of the same cancer causing chemicals as tobacco-cigarette-smoke.

    Woodsmoke cannot be kept out of a home with tape and plastic. The miniscule particles (PM2.5) enter into any small crevice in a home via windows cracks, light switches and any and all areas where air may enter. It is unfortunate that people think they can seal up and be safe from woodsmoke, that is not possible. 70% of woodsmoke from one woodburning device can enter into other homes in a neighbourhood making others sick, suffer and even die premature deaths from woodsmoke-associated diseases.

    All devices that use wood pollute community air and harm the health of those outside and inside. Woodsmoke cannot be contained to one property making it a toxic trespass, a public health hazard and a nuisance. Woodsmoke lingers in the air for hours, even days after a burn where particles can still enter our home and lungs.

    It is time and long overdue that urban communities commit to clean air, air that is not polluted with woodsmoke-emissions.

    Woodsmoke harms the unborn child, young children, the fragile elderly, those with compromised immune systems, those with pre-existing health conditions and even the healthy.

    Woodsmoke is associated with Cancer, Asthma, COPD, SIDS, Stroke, Cardiac and cardiovascular disease, cardiac arrhythmia, dementia learning disabilities, and many other woodsmoke-associated diseases. No one is immune to the harm that is done to their health from exposure to woodsmoke pollution. No person should be made to cough for endless hours due to woodsmoke pollution in urban areas. No person should be subjected to breathing toxic emissions from woodsmoke that could be banned/ended/prohibited via community leaders/mayors/boards/health units/council. No person should live in a state of fear awaiting the next intrusion to their lungs/health from someone burning wood. No person deserves to have their life prematurely ended due to the toxic cancer causing chemicals they are forced to breathe from woodburning devices.

    No community can call itself clean, green or friendly when woodburning stacks/chimneys, or other devices appear on street after street or yard after yard. The primitive practice of burning wood belongs in the archives of history when cave man lit a fire to cook the meat that he killed by clubbing a creature over the head. The need to burn is archaic! The need to burn wood has long past the cozy fireplace scenario where couples sit in front of a woodburning fireplace. We can recall a time when the tobacco-industry through false and disingenuous claims stated method cigarettes-were healthy and safe to smoke. The truth was finally revealed as more people developed COPD, Lung Cancer and other cigarette-tobacco-smoking related diseases.

    Tobacco-cigarette-smoke kills…………Woodsmoke…kills!

    Today we know for fact that there is no safe level of smoke to breathe. Today we know that no woodburning device is beneficial to mankind or to the health of others and our environment. Today we know that many can become seriously ill upon breathing very little woodsmoke. We know that symptoms can become so severe that for many immediate medical attention is required. For many it will be too late once they are given the diagnosis of Cancer, Lung disease, dementia, stroke and many other woodsmoke-associated diseases.

    Today must become the day that every community take positive pro-active action to leave the past for the history books and move toward cleaner, healthy, environmentally friendly urban communities. Today is the day that green communities become the reality, not soot deposited, shades of toxic grey that deposit soot traces of deadly chemical particles into the interior and exterior of homes in urban areas.

    Today is the day that our lung health become a number one priority in every community. Everyone deserves the right to breathe healthy air—air that is tobacco-smoke-free, pollution-free and Woodsmoke-free. Adopting bylaws to ban/end/prohibit all urban biomass burning will save millions of lives. Implementing and enforcing these bylaws and bans will ensure that people will have healthy communities in which to live, play and rest. The time to act is now!

    • Michellina van Loder says:

      Amen. Thanks for your comment. Some very valid points there! I understand that sealing up my house with tape won’t completely stop woodsmoke but it’s the best I can do right now. You’re so right, it does get into everything. Today is the day!

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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