What are the health effects of wood smoke?

Fine ParticlesAsthma inhaler

Fine particles in smoke can cause short term irritations in the eyes, nose and throat. If fine particles are breathed deep into the lungs, it can aggravate existing heart and lung conditions such as angina, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. According to the World Health Organization any exposure to fine particles can cause health problems.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless and odourless gas. CO deprives the body of oxygen and affects the reflexes. At low levels of exposure people can experience headaches fatigue or chest pain; at moderate levels, flu-like symptoms; and high concentrations may result in death. A poorly installed wood heater can cause elevated levels of CO inside a home.


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) can cause eye irritations, headaches and serious damage to the respiratory, nervous, reproductive and immune systems. Exposure to high levels can cause cancer. PAH levels are highest during winter when wood heaters and open fireplaces are frequently used.

Who is at Risk?

Wood smoke pollution affects everyone. It is bad for your health, the health of your neighbours and the health of your wider community. The effects depend on how much wood smoke you have been exposed to and for how long, your age and your current state of health. The people who are at the greatest risk are:

  • Infants and young children
  • Those suffering from existing heart, lung and vascular conditions such as asthma, angina, emphysema and diabetes
  • Frail and elderly people.

For more information of the health impacts of wood smoke, visit NSW Health Department website.

When wood smoke is a problem in your local area

When wood smoke is obvious to see or smell, it may cause problems for those with health concerns.

If you notice that wood smoke seems to make your asthma, heart or lung disease symptoms worse, stay inside and make sure you take any medication you need. Seek medical advice if your symptoms do not settle.

Avoid any outdoor physical activity.

It may be a particularly bad day for smoke, for example if there is no wind to bring fresh air to your local area. If you notice wood smoke constantly, it may be that a nearby heater is creating excessive smoke.

For more information about wood smoke, or to report a smokey chimney, contact Council's Environment Section on (02) 6333 6511.