Smoke pollution risks persist in Launceston

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The article in the Sunday Examiner (“Autumn smoke settles over CBD”, May 30) highlighted how superficially Launceston has dealt with the issue of wood smoke over the last 20 years. This, and previous articles, have raised many issues that should be addressed. While the wood heater buy-back scheme and improved regulations on new heaters have helped, there are serial offenders who emit pollution that has been shown to cause premature deaths and impose huge public health costs. There has been a string of policy failures. For example, the state government failed to enforce the contract to roll out the natural gas reticulation system, reducing the alternatives for many households. The buy-back scheme was underfunded, and many households weren’t eligible. There is a huge gap in the regulatory framework that makes enforcement of EPA regulations and quality control of fuel almost impossible. Regulations are breached if a smoke plume is visible from its source at a distance of 10 metres or more for at least 30 seconds. The smoke must also be generally visible for ten minutes. Unfortunately, it is very hard to gather evidence based on these criteria. Launceston’s geographic position makes it subject to an “inversion layer”. This is a significant factor in the formation of smog as smoke rises and hits the inversion layer and disperses below the layer. This is a common occurrence in Launceston. While we now rarely breach the World Health Organisation’s 24 hour standards for particulate matter, there are multiple short-term breaches through winter. Armidale in NSW, with similar atmospheric conditions, has far stricter controls on wood heaters. Like the management of COVID-19, we need to heed the evidence available and develop a wider more effective policy, including subsidy and assistance to reduce the health costs of wood smoke, rather than just opening more hospital beds and writing letters to offending polluters. DAVID O’Byrne might be a shoo-in for the Labor leadership, but the perception out there in voter land is that he is not focused on mainstream issues and is only an apparatchik of the left. Most voters have moved on from left-right politics, believe in a fair election process and look to a leader to govern for all. Internal Labor politics and voting appears to the public to be heavily weighted towards the left and unions, to slow a process and will probably, in the end, deliver an unelectable leader. I HAD the pleasure of accompanying four wonderful gentlemen to the takayna/Tarkine this week. They were former University football players: Terry “Ossie” Owens, Gerard “Spook” Leary, Paul “Basil” O’Halloran and Steven “Wiffy” Smith. They felt compelled to enter Helligog Rd where they were directed to leave by police. All remarked about the insanity of our state government allowing the clearing of pristine rainforest at the location of the proposed toxic tailings dam by MMG. This is even before the federal government has allowed an assessment of the site to be undertaken, let alone knowing if approval will be granted or not. The cynic in me surmises: the more the location is roaded, clearfelled and holes drilled across the 285-hectare site, the less natural values the location will possess if it goes to assessment, therefore the more likely the tailings dam will be approved. Please talk to politicians about this destructive process. WHEN chairing Budget Estimates committee meetings last week, the Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly gave us up-to-date figures regarding Australia’s mandatory quarantine system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Kelly told us between the end of March 2020 and the beginning of June 2021, 358,500 people undertook hotel quarantine. During that time 3900 positive COVID-19 cases were diagnosed, which amounts to just over 1 per cent. Of the 3900 positive cases, there were seven incursions from hotel quarantine which resulted in six events with community transmission (two events in Melbourne began separately but became indistinguishable within the community). As Professor Kelly pointed out in the estimates committee meeting, those incursions were picked up and brought under control quickly. Mandatory quarantine has been undertaken in each state and territory for people arriving on international flights. While each state dealt with quarantine in slightly differing ways, the numbers speak for themselves when we see single-figure incursions from thousands of quarantine cases. In comparison to many other countries, our border controls and quarantine requirements have been very successful in the vast majority of cases. I congratulate state and territory public health personnel and governments on working hard to keep Australians safe during this global COVID-19 pandemic.

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June 14 2021 – 6:00AM

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