Warning on air quality

Launceston is unlikely to meet national standards for fine particle air pollution until 2009, says a Federal Government study. Sunday Tasmanian October 22 2006

This is assuming woodheater numbers continue to decline and there is no change in background pollution levels. The Woodheaters in Launceston: Impacts on Air Quality study was funded by the National Heritage Trust and undertaken by CSIRO Atmospheric Research.

Launceston is on target this year to meet national air quality standards for particles with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 micrometres or less (PM10), the first time since recording began in the early 1990s. The PM10 standards allow five daily exceedences each year.

The CSIRO report, however, says the city is unlikely to meet national air quality advisory standards for finer particles of 2.5 micrometres or less (PM2.5) until 2009. It also predicts national PM2.5 advisory limits will continue to be exceeded in 2009.
The report predicts exceedences of air toxins such as benzo(a)pyrene will also continue until 2009. Benzo(a)pyrene is used as a marker for potentially cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
The 2005 study reported there was a lack of data for Launceston relating to fine particle pollution and cancer-causing PAH.

Launceston has seen a dramatic reduction in PM10 particle pollution since the 1990s, largely due to removal of about 12,000 woodheaters.
But just as the city comes to grips with PM10 levels there is a growing concern about smaller PM2.5.
The Tasmanian Air Quality Strategy released in June acknowledged an even stronger correlation between adverse health effects and PM2.5 than shown for PM10.

The World Health Organisation last year introduced new air quality guidelines for fine particle pollution.
"An increasing range of adverse health effects has been linked to air pollution, and at ever-lower concentrations," the WHO 2005 global update states.
WHO says there is no threshold under which adverse health effects do not occur and estimates there are 2 million premature deaths worldwide, most in developing countries.

Last month the US Environmental Protection Agency was attacked for going soft with new particle emission standards.
The American Lung Association, Medical Association and Thoracic Society are calling for more stringent standards.

AMA urges Launceston wood heater ban

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is calling for a total ban on wood heaters in the Launceston area. ABC News 16 October 2006

It is in response to claims that smog in the Tamar Valley is killing about 25 people each year.
Launceston respiratory physician Dr James Markos says between 25 and 50 Tasmanians die each year from air pollution and Launceston accounts for most.

A report by the federal Environment Department suggests the annual cost could be as high as $175 million.
The AMA's president, Dr Michael Aizen, is alarmed.
"I think the time is now for both local and state governments to sit up and take attention of Dr Markos' work and to come in with tougher measures to protect the health of our community," he said.

Dr Aizen wants the State Government to ban wood heaters in the Tamar Valley and introduce new subsidies for alternatives.
He is also calling on Launceston City Council to better police wood smoke pollution.

Environment Minister Paula Wriedt says a blanket ban on wood heaters could severely disadvantage low income Tasmanians, the unemployed and those on pensions.
Mrs Wriedt says the best way to improve air quality in Launceston is to work with the community.

Launceston's deadly smog

Launceston's infamous smog kills up to 25 people each year, a leading Tasmanian researcher says. Sunday Tasmanian October 15 2006

The death rate is expected to be the highest per capita for any city in the nation. A report by the federal environment department, Tamar Valley Airshed: Air Quality Strategy, suggests the financial cost of the increased mortality could be as high as $175 million every year.
This is despite thousands of woodheaters being removed from the city in the past 12 years and a vast improvement in the level of air pollution.
"There is no doubt that air pollution is a significant public health risk for the Launceston community, not only those who live here but also those who work, come to school and visit here," the report says.

In its Tasmanian Air Quality Strategy released in June, the State Government estimated that about eight people die each year because of Launceston's air pollution. But Launceston respiratory physician James Markos says the deaths figure could be triple that.
Dr Markos, chairman of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Lung Foundation and the air quality working group for the Tamar region Natural Resource Management group, arrived at his figure by using interstate studies with data from pollution monitoring in Launceston.
"In Tasmania there's anywhere from 25 to 50 deaths per year and Launceston would account for most of these," Dr Markos said.
His estimate is included in the Tamar Valley Airshed report, now before the Launceston City Council. The report estimates the cost associated with increased levels of mortality to be $7 million per person.
"For Launceston this could mean a total cost of up to $175 million if there were 25 premature deaths per year," it says.
The World Health Organisation has recently revised standards for air quality in a major international report.

There is a growing body of evidence about poor health outcomes for people susceptible to air pollution. These include premature death, premature births and aggravated asthma and emphysema. There is also the increased cost to the community from days of work lost and medical treatment.
Studies also show the long-term impact of living in an environment with high levels of particle pollution is higher levels of cancer. In recent years, Launceston has recorded the highest levels of particulate pollution of any city in the nation.
The city has also recorded the highest levels of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Of particular concern are elevated levels of the airborne pollutant benzo(a)pyrene. Once again, Launceston has the highest recorded levels of any city in Australia. It is highly carcinogenic and found in coal tar, car-exhaust fumes (especially from diesel engines), tobacco smoke and char-grilled food.

News article link
See also...

Other News

Australia could save $1 billion in health costs from tighter woodheater standards: new DEH cost-benefit analysis

A 63-page cost-benefit analysis of woodheaters by the BDA group is available from www.deh.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/woodsmoke/standards.html. Standards Australia is considering a revision to the AS4013 test procedure - to leave the air control fully open open after refuelling for a period of 2 minutes, then set it to the desired burn rate. Most current heaters could be modified to satisfy the revised test by incorporating some form of time delay to the air control lever. The cost-benefit analysis considers stricter emission limits for woodheaters from 4.0 g/kg to 1.0 g/kg (see Table 18, p58) in conjunction with the revised test procedure. A limit of 1.0 g/kg would cost $25 million, but save over $1 billion in health costs - a benefit cost ratio of 45.3:1.

Sadly, there are no estimates of the benefits vs cost of additional policies to discourage woodheater use in urban areas, e.g. by labels on the heater explaining the health costs of woodsmoke. Ideally, all prospective purchasers should be informed that authorities such as the Australian Lung Foundation, the American Lung Association and the UK Department of Health and the Environment recommend not using woodheaters when non-polluting alternatives are available.

Review find woodsmoke as harmful as other PM10 pollution

"In comparison with the present general estimations for ambient particulate matter and adverse health effects, the relative risks were even stronger in the studies in which residential wood combustion was considered a major source of particulate matter. Thus there seems to be no reason to assume that the effects of particulate matter in areas polluted by wood smoke are weaker than elsewhere." Boman, B., Forsberg, A., Jarvholm, B., 2003. Adverse health effects from ambient air pollution in relation to residential wood combustion in modern society. Scand J Work Environ Health 29, 251-60.

Reduced air pollution = better respiratory health of Swiss Children

A decline of 10 ug/m3 in annual PM10 exposure reduced chronic coughs by 35%, bronchitis by 34%, common cold by 22%, nocturnal dry cough by 30% and conjunctivitis symptoms by 19%. "No threshold of adverse effects of PM10 was apparent because we observed the beneficial effects for relatively small changes of rather moderate air pollution levels." These results again demonstrate the need to ensure the full cost of air pollution is considered in the formulation of pollution-reduction polices.
Link to abstract

Recognition for Dr Markos' work on wood smoke in Launceston

ABC News
Jim Markos has won the Tasmanian College of Physicians inaugural George Vidor memorial prize ... Congratulations, Jim!

Exercise, life expectancy and air pollution

We all know that exercise is good for you. In the Nov 05 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, Franco and colleagues calculated life expectancy using data from The Framingham Heart Study. Moderate physical activity was found to extend life by 1.3 years. See here
But air pollution shortens it - a European Commission study attributed 310,00 premature deaths in 11 European countries to air pollution; average life expectancy of the entire population being reduced by 9 months. (Air pollution causes early deaths). So people living in an area with twice average pollution will loose more years of life to air pollution than they could gain by taking regular, moderate physical activity. Sadly, we get inundated us with messages about the health benefits of physical activity, but living longer by living in an area with low PM2.5 measurements is never even mentioned.
(Repeated from last years news - but still relevant, because of the NEPM review of air quality standards, and the review of emissions limits for woodheaters)

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