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Wood smoke draws researchers to New Zealand


The burning question of winter is attracting international air quality scientists to Wellington later this month to design a large-scale joint research program. Source: Timberbiz, Scoop NZ

Leading researchers in atmospheric wood smoke and its impact on health from the US, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Australia and New Zealand will meet to launch the International Wood Smoke Research Network.

The launch event will include brief outlines from each of the eight international researchers about air quality problems and solutions.

A question and answer session also aims to give the international experts an insight into local issues and concerns.

NIWA air quality scientist Dr Ian Longley said wood burning for heating was the primary cause of poor air quality in New Zealand.

However, the decision to form the network stemmed from limited and uncertain evidence about how wood smoke affects health and what has been gained by introducing regulations on their use.

“We know that strict regulations on wood burners have had mixed results, with air quality improving slowly in some towns, but hardly at all in others.

“Studies in North America, Europe and Australia have indicated great potential from wood burner management but the results have been inconsistent.”

Dr Longley said a major factor in the inconsistent results has been the small scale and isolation of each study, as well as interference from other pollutant sources.

“Our network aims to design a large-scale research and intervention program with input from other interested groups, such as Maori, who are disproportionately affected.”

Dr Longley said the group hoped to attract funding from a number of different countries to implement the program.

“Together we aim to develop strong evidence and real solutions that are proven in New Zealand, and then exported around the world.” Dr Nevil Pierse, deputy director of Housing and Health Research Programme at the University of Otago, Wellington, said improved home heating resulted in significant health benefits but it was important to minimise harm from pollutants both indoors and outdoors.

NIWA air quality researchers are already working on a project in Rangiora using new hi-tech sensors in homes to detect when people are using their wood burners and the impact it is having on indoor and outdoor air quality.

The project is set to revolutionise how communities can measure and control pollution.

The network launch is being held on Tuesday, 26 July from 9am to noon at the University of Otago, Wellington School of Medicine, 23A Mein St, Newtown.

Places are limited so anyone interested in attending is to register at