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Fireplace smoke health hazard in Newport

19 June 2010

SINCE the weather started to cool, Alison Harvey has been struggling to breathe as her neighbours start lighting their fireplaces again.

According to Ms Harvey, once the sun goes down, the low-lying area of Newport where she lives becomes blanketed in a cloud of acrid wood smoke.

She is so sensitive to the smoke she has had to start taping shut all the gaps around her windows and doors in an effort to keep it out.

“Some nights it’s just acrid and I just can’t breathe. I didn’t sleep at home last night because of it,” Ms Harvey said.

“My doctor has told me I’ll have to move if it doesn’t stop.”

The Newport resident of 21 years said she had never seen so many people using fireplaces during the winter and put it down to people wanting to save on heating costs.

“I can’t understand how we can still allow this, we’ve pretty much banned smoking and this is just as bad,” she said.

Pittwater Council’s general manager, Mark Ferguson, said the council could take some action under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

“The first is to ask the homeowners concerned if we can enter their properties to inspect the fireplaces-heaters,” Mr Ferguson said.

“New fireplaces and chimneys require a DA in Pittwater so if they are new structures that have been illegally installed then we can ask the homeowner concerned to remove them.

“The main approach, however, will be educating residents on their use - advising them on the type of wood being burned, ensuring wood is not wet or green, that it isn’t coated with paint or chemicals and reducing the frequency of the fires.”

According the the NSW Environment Department’s website, wood smoke is a major cause of air pollution and during winter wood heaters can produce up to seven times as much particle pollution as cars.

Among the noxious gases contained in wood smoke are carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, benzene and formaldehyde.

Even small doses are known to cause respiratory conditions, especially for very young children and frail, older people.

Source: The Manly Daily