Public health or a “nanny state”?

This week I announced the Government would not permit the use of wood heaters in new homes in the development area of the Molonglo Valley due to the significant potential for air pollution from wood smoke.   The decision was based on an independent assessment of air pollution issues for the area .  You can see a copy of the report here.

Not surprisingly there was some criticism of my decision, with the cliche “nanny state” thrown about freely.

It is important to remember that wood smoke is a pollutant, and that there are some areas of Canberra, where due to the local topography, like Tuggeranong and Molonglo ( which are both valleys) wood smoke can become trapped in a pool of cold air closer to the ground and beneath the warmer air above in the winter months.  Wood smoke contains particulate matter and with prolonged exposure can cause serious illness.   Respiratory conditions, such as asthma can be seriously exacerbated, cardiovascular and circulatory conditions can also be made worse from ongoing exposure.   It is the very young and the elderly who are most susceptible, with exposure to the particulate matter in wood smoke known to contribute to chronic lung disease, heart problems and premature birth and death.  Wood heaters can also release excessive levels of carbon monoxide.

So how bad a problem is wood smoke pollution in the ACT ?  The latest Air Quality Report issued by the Environment Protection Authority shows it is the only air pollutant in the ACT to exceed the National Environment Protection Measure standard.   Last year saw 4 breaches of the national standard in the Tuggeranong Valley, and while this is an improvement on previous years, the potential for more breaches would occur if wood heaters were permitted in the Molonglo Valley.

So the choice is simple, knowing what we know about wood smoke being trapped in valleys like Molonglo in the winter months, and knowing that wood smoke can cause illness or make existing illness worse ( particularly in babies, young children and the elderly), do we take steps to help prevent the problem, or ignore the warnings?

I chose to protect public health rather than pander to the shrill cry of “nanny state”.



2 thoughts on “Public health or a “nanny state”?

  1. I totally agree. I personally love the smell of a wood fire, but I also know people who have very uncomfortable reactions to the same smoke, and I have to favour respecting their reasonable expectation of clean, breathable air if that is possible. In the pioneer days, when a farmhouse was the only dwelling in an area the size of one of our suburbs, the smoke had area to dissipate. Now that we’ve got 1000 dwellings in that same area, it is reasonable to expect our behaviours to change to suit the changed dwelling density. From the viewpoint of those who have reactions to smoke, placing that smoke into the air is not much different from flushing your toilet into the air.

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