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Air Pollution due to Wood Burning for Heating: A Health Impact Assessment

Moshammer, Hanns*; Kaiser, August†; Flandorfer, Claudia†; Haluza, Daniela*; Neuberger, Manfred*

doi: 10.1097/01.ede.0000363010.29954.7f
Abstracts: ISEE 21st Annual Conference, Dublin, Ireland, August 25-29, 2009: Poster Presentations

*Inst. Environmental Health, MUW, Vienna, Austria; and †Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, Vienna, Austria.

Abstracts published in Epidemiology have been reviewed by the organizations of Epidemiology. Affliate Societies at whose meetings the abstracts have been accepted for presentation. These abstracts have not undergone review by the Editorial Board of Epidemiology.


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The health impact of air pollution is well established. Dose-effect-estimates exist for several outcomes and pollutants. The impact of source specific air pollution is less well studied. However, since abatement measures concern sources and not single pollutants a source specific impact assessment would be very relevant.

Burning of wood for heating purposes is deemed an environmental friendly technology because wood is a renewable source. This perception neglects the important contribution of wood burning to air pollution, especially regarding fine particles. In fact, chemical analyses indicate that wood smoke is among the top contributors of particle pollution, particularly in rural regions.

Assuming a worst-case scenario in which all existing domestic heating systems based on oil were replaced by wood burning devices we estimated the increase in average particle pollution in Upper Austria. Based on established emission factors using a Lagrangian Particle Diffusion Model, an increase in the average annual PM10 concentration in Upper Austria by 3–5 μg/m3 was calculated.

Current scientific literature indicates that aerosol from wood incineration is at least as dangerous on a “per μg”-basis as the total ambient aerosol. Therefore, dose-effect estimates of ambient PM10 from epidemiological studies were used to estimate the health impact in the worst-case scenario.

For the federal country of Upper Austria an increase in the annual average of PM10 by 3–5 μg/m3 translated into a relevant public health impact. For example, chronic exposure as reported in cohort studies would lead to up to approximately 170 additional deaths per year, mostly from cardiovascular causes.

Stricter emission rules are needed for domestic heating. Climate-change preventing policies targeted at domestic heating should improve the insulation of houses and support district heating and solar energy instead of biomass burning without proper emission control.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.