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Wood smoke myth busters
Wood smoke is natural so it must be OK?
Even though humans have burned wood since the beginning of time, scientists have only recently discovered just how hazardous wood smoke pollution is to our health.

Wood smoke contains a number of noxious gases, including carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and a range of organic compounds, some of which are toxic or carcinogenic, as well as fine particles.

The negative health effects of residential wood smoke have been linked to a range of health problems that include diminished lung function, respiratory and cardiac problems.

These fine particles, also known as PM 2.5, are so small they enter the lungs when you breathe and stay there.

The reality is: if you can smell wood smoke, you’re breathing pollution that is hazardous to your health.

Aren't there more important air pollutant sources to worry about?
There are a number of contributors to air pollution in the Singleton area including emissions from mining, power generation and other industrial activities as well as emissions from vehicles.

Unlike other sources of pollution, wood burning occurs right in the neighbourhoods where we live—sometimes right next door. This means that people can be subjected to levels of hazardous pollution from wood heaters that are far higher than from any other pollution source.

The Upper Hunter Particle Characterisation Study 2012 clearly showed that wood smoke has a seasonal impact on Singleton’s Air Quality. The results of this study are shown in the graph titled “Contribution of the various factors to the total PM2.5 Concentration in Singleton – 2012”.

Contribution of each factor to the total PM 2.5 in Singleton.JPG
Contribution of the various factors to the total PM2.5 Concentration in Singleton – 2012

What does this graph show?
Samples of particulate matter of 2.5 micron and less were collected in a high volume air sampler as shown in the picture and the composition analysed to determine the source of the particles.
In Singleton, these samples were collected at the air quality monitoring station located between the Gym and Swim and Singleton Council’s administration office.
The yellow coloured section represents the contribution of wood smoke from wood heaters. This is noticeable between April and October 2012, with the greatest contribution being between May and August 2012.

Explanation of other factors included on graph.
Factor 2 - Vehicle/Industry – Vehicles, industry
Factor 3 - Secondary sulphate - Local and regional sources of sulphur dioxide such as power stations.
Factor 4 - Biomass smoke - Wildfires, hazard reduction burns
Factor 5 - Industry aged sea salt - Sea salt, local and regional sources of sulphur dioxide such as power stations
Factor 6 - Soil - Soil dust, fugitive coal dust
Factor 7 - Sea Salt - Sea salt
Factor 8 – Secondary nitrate – Motor vehicle and power station nitrogen dioxide

Wood smoke dissipates so what's the problem?
Inversion Layers Aberdeen.jpg
A number of inversion layers
in the atmosphere looking towards
Muswellbrook and Singleton.
Most of the harmful pollutants in wood smoke don’t dissipate quickly. They hang around at ground level for a few days.

On cold winter days (when people tend to burn wood) the problem is even worse, because the weather conditions create temperature inversions that put a lid over the lower atmosphere, trapping hazardous pollutants close to ground level.

What is a temperature inversion?
A temperature inversion is a thin layer of the atmosphere where the normal decrease in temperature with height switches to temperature increasing with height. The normal situation and temperature inversion are shown below.

Singleton Council
PO Box 314 Singleton NSW 2330
Ph: 02 6578 7290