Heart attack and asthma risk from wood heaters

Wood heaters: health risk to frail-aged, children and those with health conditions

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TOASTY: They're cosy but wood fires can pose a health hazard.

TOASTY: They're cosy but wood fires can pose a health hazard.


Wood fires are causing 75 per cent of health-damaging air pollution in parts of NSW


ON COOL days and decidedly chilly winter nights, the thought of snuggling up in front of a cosy wood fire may be appealing.

But experts are warning of the health effects of wood heaters with their smoke contributing to 75 per cent of particulate matter (small particles in smoke) in Sydney and many regional areas across the state.

Exposure to this type of air pollution can have a variety of health effects ranging from irritated eyes, nose and throat, to more severe effects including worsening of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as asthma and heart attacks.

NSW Health’s Environmental Health Branch director Ben Scalley said some people could be unaware of the impact of wood heaters on their own health and on the health of their community.

“Especially in metropolitan areas it is important to consider other options to heat your home,” said Dr Scalley.

About 10 per cent of households in NSW use wood heaters as the main heating source. 

Better Health Victoria also warns of the danger of wood smoke pollution to the health of children and the frail aged as well as the risks from carbon monoxide (CO), a odourless, tasteless and colourless gas. CO levels will rise in a home where a wood-fired heater is used. A poorly installed, improperly vented or leaking wood heater can result in CO levels inside the home that may lead to CO poisoning.

A small increase in the level of CO may result in people having trouble concentrating. At low to moderate levels of CO exposure, a person may experience flu-like symptoms, headaches, fatigue or chest pain. High exposure to CO can result in permanent damage to the heart and brain, which may result in death. 

Safety hints for wood-burning heaters:

  • Check your heater conforms with the Australian Standard and that the heater and chimney are installed in line with council specifications   
  • Burn only dry, well-seasoned and chemically untreated wood
  • Ensure fresh air enters the room to prevent carbon monoxide build-up
  • Check your chimney and increase the airflow to the fire if you see visible smoke.                                                                                                     
  • Read more: Tips for a healthy, happy winter
  • Read more:  Rent or food: The choice some older renters have to make