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Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
&
Liberal Senator for Tasmania
Senator Guy Barnett

19 September 2003

Less Wood Heaters - Less Pollution in Launceston


Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today announced Launceston householders had dramatically reduced the city's air pollution by replacing close to 1500 old wood heaters and fireplaces with more environmentally-friendly heaters.

"To date, 1450 households have registered with the Howard Government's $2.05 million Launceston Wood Heater Replacement Program replacing their old wood heaters with the help of a $500 rebate," Dr Kemp said. "This is an increase of some 500 households participating in the program from last year.

"Funded under the Natural Heritage Trust, the wood heater replacement program was introduced two years ago to reduce air pollution in Launceston, largely caused by wood heater emissions.

"This is being achieved through financial incentives offered by the Federal Government – a $500 rebate to replace wood heaters – and other measures put in place in partnership with Launceston City Council.

"Old wood heaters can create excessive smoke because of ineffective burning, resulting in inefficient heating and unburnt fuel being emitted into the atmosphere creating pollution and causing respiratory problems.

"Wood heaters also create more greenhouse gas emissions than hydro-electricity which is the principle source of electricity in Tasmania. Combined health and environmental concerns from wood heater emissions presents a strong case to Launceston householders to seriously consider replacing wood heaters with more environmentally friendly heating systems."

Alternative heating systems purchased by householders with the rebate include electric, gas and low emission wood heaters, which have contributed substantially to improving air quality.

These efforts, coupled with milder weather conditions, resulted in only 14 days when the national air quality standard was exceeded last year. This is a 50% reduction from 2001 and improved air quality trends are expected to continue in the region this year as a result of the program. Air quality data from this year's winter season is still being finalised.

The national air quality standard is 50 micrograms per cubic metre of fine particulate matter, known as PM10 (the number refers to the diameter of the particle in micrometres). Particles of this size can be inhaled deep into the lungs and can trigger serious health effects such as respiratory and heart problems. Fine particle matter may also contain harmful chemicals such as benzene, toluene and xylene that can also have serious impacts on public health.

"In winter months, Launceston is renowned for having the worst air quality of any city in Australia with 50% of households reliant on wood heaters or open fireplaces as their main source of heating. In 2000, the city exceeded the national standard 38 times and recorded the highest concentrations of particles in Australia," Dr Kemp said.

Senator Barnett said up to two-thirds of rebate recipients indicated they would not have been able to afford to replace their heaters without the $500 rebate from the Commonwealth. The rebate also motivated many other householders to replace their wood heaters earlier.

"The wood heater replacement program has also boosted community awareness of the extent of Launceston's air quality problems and as a result, has seen a big community effort to address the issue," Senator Barnett said.

"This is thanks to a very effective community-based campaign put in place by the Launceston City Council. This involves a range of initiatives such as recording and reducing emissions, market research on wood heaters, and targeted education and advertising campaigns.

"In fact, market research found there was a significant increase in the number of wood heater users that improved their operating practices during the 2002 winter in response to Launceston City Council's targeted education campaign.

"This is the final phase of the replacement program and to be eligible for a rebate, applications must be lodged by 18 April 2004. I urge the Launceston community to take advantage of the rebate offer."

Dr Kemp said the Howard Government is also addressing woodsmoke pollution through commissioning research, including a study looking at the effects of woodheater emissions on personal exposure to selected air toxics. Residents from 77 households in Launceston were recruited to wear personal exposure monitors during summer and winter this year.

"It is interesting to note that preliminary results from this study indicate personal exposure to benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes in Launceston is two and three times higher in winter than in summer. These results strongly indicate wood heaters are responsible for increased personal exposure to these air pollutants," Dr Kemp said.

The findings will provide valuable data on exposure levels and be used to develop recommendations on the best heaters to use, what type of wood produces the least amount of emissions, and how it should be burned to minimize health impacts.

Since 1996, the Federal Government has spent more than $18 million on a range of projects to improve air quality, including $15 million on the NHT Air Pollution in Major Cities Program under which the current personal exposure study in Launceston is funded.

Application forms for rebates are available through the Launceston City Council or from the website www.launceston.tas.gov.au. For details on the Launceston Woodheater Replacement Program, visit www.deh.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/woodsmoke/ or phone (03) 6323 3305.

Commonwealth of Australia