Ambient wood smoke exposure and respiratory symptoms in Tasmania, Australia
Bennett, C. M., Dharmage, S. C., Matheson, M., Gras, J. L., Markos, J., Mészáros, D., et al. (2010). Ambient wood smoke exposure and respiratory symptoms in Tasmania, Australia. Science of the Total Environment, 409(2), 294-299. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.10.002.
Wood smoke exposure has been associated with adverse respiratory health outcomes, with much of the current research focused on wood smoke from domestic heating and cooking. This study examined the association between respiratory symptoms and outdoor wood smoke in Launceston, Tasmania, where ~ 30% of homes use wood burners for domestic heating. This ecological study examined data from participants of the 2004 Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study postal survey and compared the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in Launceston (n = 601) with that in Hobart (n = 1071), a larger Tasmanian city with much less wood smoke. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to investigate the associations of interest while adjusting for gender, atopy, history of allergic disease and current smoking status. There were no significant differences in symptom prevalence between Launceston and Hobart. Two subgroup analyses, which examined participants with pre-existing chronic respiratory disease, and those who reported actively using a wood burner in their home, also did not find significant differences. Any impact of wood smoke on non-specific respiratory symptoms might have been overshadowed by other important determinants of respiratory health, such as vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoking, or were too small to have been detected. However, the lack of detectable differences in symptom prevalence might also reflect the success of regulatory action by local governments to reduce wood smoke emissions in Launceston. The results of other epidemiological studies support an association between ambient wood smoke exposure and adverse respiratory health. Further investigations of wood smoke exposure in Australian settings are needed to investigate the lack of significant associations found in this study, especially studies of indoor air quality and health impacts in children and elderly populations.