Data visualisation: Wood heater pollution

Wood heater smoke is the major source of particulate air pollution (PM2.5) in many Australian towns and large cities, with impacts often exceeding pollution from industry and traffic. New research led by Dr. Nicolás Borchers Arriagada calculated the health impacts of wood heater pollution across Australia and the benefits of replacing wood heaters with cleaner heating technologies. The research team estimated that wood heater smoke in Australia is linked to between 558-1555 earlier than expected deaths each year. They found that halving the number of wood heaters in Australia would create health benefits of between $AUD 1.61 billion to $AUD 1.93 billion per year. To read the full article reporting this data analysis click here.

The data visualisation tool below shows maps of estimated wood heater pollution-related health impacts across Australia from this study. Using this tool you can explore the estimates by State/Territory, by Greater Capital City Statistical Area, or by Statistical Area Level 4. The tool also enables you to select what estimates to display: wood heater emissions (WHE) (kg/year), population-weighted WHE-fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations, the number of earlier than expected deaths, or deaths per 100,000 people.

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Considerations

Keep in mind the following points when you look at the data maps.

  • The estimates come from Australia-wide modelling of air pollution, estimated wood heater emissions and meteorology. A national study needs to use data available consistently across the country.
  • Estimates have been previously calculated for some smaller geographic locations in Australia including Armidale, ACT, Sydney and Tasmania. The results from these studies will be different to results from a national study because smaller scale studies often have the advantage of access to local data that might not be available at a national scale.
  • Every health impact assessment will be different according to data availability and assumptions used, for example the size of the health impact or the level of background pollution, in the modelling. Good studies make these assumptions clear. It is important to read and understand how each study was done. In this study, the research team chose to use relatively conservative estimates both in terms of the quantity of pollution emitted by wood heaters and the seriousness of the health impacts the pollution causes.
  • The health impacts identified in this research are the outcome of long-term exposure to pollution across a given population. They do not represent short-term health impacts for individuals.
  • Cleaner heating technologies may produce a range of other benefits in terms of heating affordability, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity preservation from reduced timber harvesting. However, these benefits need to be considered against the costs of transitioning households to cleaner heating technologies.