New project aims to reduce wood smoke pollution

Published 26 September 2008

hine.jpgResearchers at the University of New England have received funding from the Australian Research Council to investigate the effectiveness of several strategies for reducing wood smoke pollution in Armidale.

“In July and August of this year, air particulate pollution in Armidale exceeded the National Environmental Protection Measure advisory standard on 28 occasions,” said UNE’s Associate Professor Don Hine, one of the chief investigators on the project. “This indicates the need for such research in Armidale.”

Based at UNE and conducted by the University in partnership with Armidale Dumaresq Council, SmartBurn Australia, the Australian Home Heating Association and the Firewood Association of Australia, the three-year project will develop and evaluate a community-based social marketing campaign targeting Armidale residents. The project will also provide the first large-scale field test of SmartBurn – a small canister that can be placed in wood heaters to improve combustion and reduce particulate emissions.

“We will monitor airborne particulate matter and health complaints over the three-year period to determine whether the interventions are effective in reducing overall levels of wood smoke pollution and health complaints,” Dr Hine said.

“The first year of the project will focus on defining the scope of the air quality problem by collecting baseline data,” he explained, “and identifying the major barriers that prevent residents from reducing their own wood smoke emissions and from participating in broader community initiatives to improve air quality.

“Simply educating people about the negative health effects of wood smoke pollution and proper wood-burning practices will not be sufficient, in most cases, to induce them to change their behaviour. Psychological and economic barriers must also be addressed.

“For example, in a study recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, my colleagues and I found that many wood-heater users were very reluctant to trade in their heaters, even if they perceived the potential health costs – to themselves and the community – to be high.  We found evidence to suggest that many wood heater users have strong positive emotional associations with wood fires that seem to over-ride their rational assessments of risk.”

The researchers will begin by conducting a series of focus group interviews with a broad cross-section of the local community to solicit opinions about the perceived magnitude of the wood smoke pollution problem in Armidale, and the best way of managing the problem. “At this initial stage of the project, we are particularly interested in speaking to members of the community who currently use wood heaters, or who have recently switched from wood to other types of heating systems,” Dr Hine said. “We are also interested in speaking to seniors and other residents who are concerned about this problem.”

People interested in participating in the focus groups can contact Dr Navjot Bhullar at UNE on 6773 2546, or e-mail her at

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, showing Associate Professor Don Hine in front of a wood-burning fireplace, expands to include the other two members of the UNE research team – Dr Navjot Bhullar (left) and Dr John Scott (second from left) – with Mr Euan Belson, Environment and Health Manager, Armidale Dumaresq Council.