Posted by: Matthew | December 26, 2009

The Truth about the Australian Home Heating Association

When I first set up this blog of course I wanted lots of people to read it, and for people to think about the issues it raises. The truth is that the two places I have lived in Kapiti have been polluted to a level I have found uncomfortable. Living in Kapiti should be a wonderful paradise, but I have found it suboptimal, because of the smoke stink. I first lived in Raumati South by the beach (because I thought sea breezes would clean the air), and in winter and months on either side it actually was incredibly polluted beneath small inversion layers between the dunes. There were still nights and they were terrible. I had to move away. Where I live now was chosen because I wanted to be away from smoke and I am truly shocked by the amount of burning off that my neighbours have been doing. I would not have bought where I did if I had have known it was going to polluted like it is, with smoke from burnoffs on at least half of all weekend days. Like these guys I live next to who are about to illegally burn off plastic again, even though they know not to because it annoys me, and he has been told it is illegal by letter by the regional council. Burning off is all too common, and we need to be protected by law from people like them with a complete ban on burning off.

The motto of this website is “We have the right to demand clean air. You do not have the right to pollute it” and I very much believe in that message. The community’s right to clean air definitely should outweigh an individual’s right to pollute, which is what those who heat their home, or disposes of rubbish, in any way they choose, actually are doing. The “tragedy of the commons” is definitely applicable to wood smoke pollution and I adamantly believe that the atmosphere is not a dump. We also need to remove wood burners from our communities.

So when I first wrote this blog I sent an email introducing it to local dignitaries, such as the Kapiti Mayor and the local councillors, and to journalists at the local papers, and to a local clean air campaigner, and the owner of the pollution retailer on Kapiti Road. One of them breached my trust and passed that private email onto the Australian Home Heating Association (the peak industry body of wood smoke polluters in Australia and New Zealand).

In that, what was a private email to those recipients, but I am happy to make public now, despite the threats I said:

“I’ve been outspoken on this before and have had threats against my person from an organisation called the Australia Home Heating Association, an organisation of retailers and manufacturers of woodburners. I don’t know if NZ companies are a part of it or not. I don’t care. Still they won’t shut me up. If you have any dealings with the AHHA in the future I would appreciate you not passing on any personal details to them, as they can be incredibly nasty bastards. And one of their tactics is to offer “help” and “advice” to local governments in dealing with smoke complaints. Do not take them up on it at any cost. Their motives are much too sinister. They are not interested in helping the situation only in shutting the complainant up.”

I always intended to write about my experiences when I was made to be a wood smoke victim when I lived in Adelaide and how the Australian Home Heating Association interfered in my affairs and how they behaved throughout, even though I have always felt threatened by them. Now I will bring forward the telling of that story.

But first an aside; I am probably going to get sued for defamation for this blog post too. Firstly I will state that I will only state the truth and my opinions of the truth. Therefore it is not defamatory. Truth comes before defamation laws. I think that I have the right to say what I want to say about the Australian Home Heating Association without being threatened as long as what I say is truthful. I also feel I am now obliged to tell this story as a matter of fairness. I believe in transparency, and openness. They are the keys to an open, democratic and free society. We should not fear sinister forces and their threats. I know they won’t like what I say, but that does not give them the right to tell me not to say it. I assert my rights as a human being in a free, democratic country, either now in New Zealand, or then in Australia. I consider myself a free man, and citizen of both nations. I will not be bullied into shutting up.

This is a cut and paste from the lawyer’s letter and the AHHA has problems with the words I chose :

* that our client can be “incredibly nasty bastards”
* that our client uses tactics to “offer “help” and advice” to local
governments in dealing with smoke complaints”
* that our client’s motives are “much too sinister”
* that our client is “not interested in helping the situation only
in shutting the complainant up”

I assert that those statements are true and correct.

My old house, rendered totally unlivable by my neighbour’s so called “clean” wood burner.

My dealings with the AHHA started in 2000 or 2001 when I lived in Fairview Park, South Australia and my neighbours were burning their wood burner in a way that was intolerable to me. I complained to the neighbour, Diana and her boyfriend. They told me to “f**k off” so I made a formal complaint to the City of Tea Tree Gully. The City of TTG was, to say mildly, uninterested, and wanted to get rid of me, when the right thing to do was to get my neighbour to stop using their woodburner. The council officer wanted to use the offer from the AHHA to the TTG council that they’d have a talk with my neighbour about how to burn wood cleanly (and the right thing to do in this case was to not use the woodburner at all). I naively said “yeah, it can’t hurt.” That was a huge mistake.

I got literature sent to me at my home address from the AHHA, which according to them I was meant to pass on to my neighbours. It was rubbish. I couldn’t pass that on to them. It was propaganda from people who want to maximise profits in selling wood burners and they definitely didn’t give a damn about me and the air I had to breathe. I rang up the AHHA and asked for a meeting, and they wanted to know my email address, and I stupidly gave them my work address. They never did agree to meet me in any way shape or form. Instead they made complaints to my employer about my behaviour, which my employer dismissed as harassment by the AHHA of me. I assume that the AHHA told my neighbours to keep on doing what they were doing, because that is how they behaved. I jumped the fence one day and found treated pine in their woodpile, which I reported to the council, which as far as I am aware of was not dealt with by the council. I should have stolen the treated pine in the woodpile so as to not allow them to burn it. I’ve probably been exposed to arsenic and copper or some such nasties. Thanks Diana.

I had started writing letters to the editor in the local papers and to the local council, pointing out that woodsmoke is a huge nuisance and that supposedly “clean” wood burners weren’t clean. Here’s is a chart from the American group BurningIssues.org, and if my nieghbour had only like the 3rd circle along well that was enough for me to think my house was unlivable.

Other things that I said in those letters was that I hated being the victim of wood smoke. I very much felt like a victim. I was getting physically assaulted by wood smoke on a nightly basis, and I couldn’t fight back in any way. It was so frustrating. I couldn’t appeal to my neighbours’ nice sides, because they didn’t appear to have one. I put up a sign on my fence saying “No woodsmoke please”. It was ignored. Wood smoke had made my life miserable.

Here’s an example of one of my letters to the editor from the Adelaide Advertiser 13th August 2002.

“How Now Brown Cloud

Forget the Asian Brown Cloud, the Fairview Park Brown cloud is just as unpleasant, just as dirty, and a lot closer to my home.  In fact the neighbours’ smoke comes into my lounge room, and, selfishly, they don’t even care.  It’s time to ban all wood fires in the city.  I need protection from my neighbours’ pollution.  We need a new law.”

Another thing I pointed out was the involvement of the AHHA in the process of dealing (or not dealing) with my complaint. I pointed out that the AHHA has a conflict of interest in being part of the neighbourhood conflict resolution. I still assert that the AHHA has a huge conflict of interest in this regard. I think they should have nothing to do with the conflict resolution phase that their member’s products cause. Even using their products in the way that they prescribe to “minimise smoke” still causes massive amounts of nuisance pollution. This information they provide gives licence for people to cause pollution. It may speak about environmentally friendliness and clean burning, but that is doublespeak. It is greenwash.  The fact that very few users actually can manage to burn causing the least amount of smoke that one of their products can is also another reason not to have woodburners in the suburbs. It is incredibly difficult to have the right amount of super dry wood all winter, and set it up in the burner with the optimal amount of wood versus air. It is also impossible to make the minimum amount of smoke in one of their products since many of the products being sold in Australia are not the models tested. The tested models have different sized air holes and they burn slightly cleaner, but slower and cooler than the retail models, and they know that to comply with the already lax standards they would be selling woodburners that no one would want. See below for more on this.

I would also like to point out that the real minimum of smoke that can be produced, is the mathematical minimum of zero.

At the end of my tether, frustrated by the continued pollution (with my windows closed, and the roller shutters down I could still have my smoke alarms going off at 11pm at night when my neighbours came home and lit their woodburner, and guess what, it was supposedly a “clean” woodburner), and disappointed with the lack of help from the City of Tea Tree Gully, and with the interference of the AHHA, I finally sought an injunction against my neighbour in the South Australian Magistrates Court, and at the first hearing the matter was adjourned so I could get “scientific evidence” as requested by the magistrate, which in itself was frustrating as why should anything but my word, saying “it is a nuisance” not be enough? In the meantime I sold my house and moved away and lived smoke free for six years, before moving to New Zealand in 2008.

The AHHA (and maybe its NZ offshoot I don’t know) does (or did then) use tactics for shutting up complainants about woodsmoke, by finding out about who complains and harassing them, and they give advice to the problem polluters to keep on polluting. Councils are advised that their tactic is unhelpful and resented by the people who have polluted homes to live in once they work out that the AHHA is not there to represent them or their neighbours, but only the interests of the AHHA and its members. They are definitely not interested in solving the situation and they are all about shutting people up. That consistutes a sinister motive, and that adds up to them being incredibly nasty bastards.

Their defamation case against me is also evidence that they want to shut up people who complain about woodsmoke. Again it shows their sinister streak and it does show them to be incredibly nasty bastards.

If you need anymore proof that the AHHA dishonestly downplays the effects that wood smoke pollution causes and doesn’t give a damn about community clean air see their 2005 media release on Launceston’s air quality.

Interestingly the Launceston City Council currently in 2009 says “Research has shown that approximately 73 per cent of air pollution in Launceston and the surrounding towns in winter is due to domestic woodheaters and open fires. Estimates are that woodheaters are responsible for the release of over 1200 tonnes of particle pollution into the air above Launceston every autumn and winter” and that the numbers are down to 8500 woodheaters. So in a city of 72500 people, less than 20% of households are ruining the air quality for everyone. That is not only absolutely unjust that is 100% preventable with proper legislation. Rather than being only 20 problem burners as claimed by the AHHA, it is more like 8500.

Living next door to a problem woodburner was a traumatic experience, and it resulted in me being forced to move from my own house at my own expense. The law offered me inadequate protection. The interference of the AHHA in my affairs added to the trauma. Without their interference it would not have been quite as traumatic an experience. The sense of injustice I still feel 7 years on is very real. I feel that without their involvement, which I feel I was tricked into having, and soon proved to be unwanted, I could have had a happier outcome. I am still upset by the injustice of the situation. I think I have a public duty to warn people about the activities of the AHHA. I wouldn’t want people to have the same experience that I had. If I was forced to not shut up about it then I would feel terrible. I can’t just let injustices go uncommented on. As I have already said I felt threatened by the AHHA. I felt like an Australian industry was trying to keep me in some lowly shut-up kind of place, and I felt like they were and are still trying to shut me up. I do feel that their behaviour added up to an outrageous bullying abuse. I’ve never been able to take being bullied very well.

That is all fair and reasonable comment on the activities of the Australian Home Heating Association in as much as I have dealt with them. Ever since I got my first threat from them when they complained to my employer I knew they were a threat. I’ve always felt threatened by them. In 2001 in pre-blog days I could only complain to the local papers. Now I have a blog. They must really hate me, and this blog.

Now some disclosures:

In the past I have by phone and email asked for face to face meetings with the AHHA because I wanted to tell them how their interference in my affairs proved to be a hindrance, and how I felt as a victim of woodsmoke. No meetings have ever been forthcoming.

I have written to Banrock Station Winery once. Both Banrock Station and the AHHA are members of Landcare Australia. I told Banrock Station (who I hold in high regard for their guardianship role they perform for their wetlands and their wine tastes good) that their good name was being sullied by having the AHHA also being a member of Landcare Australia. Landcare has support from a wide range of Australian industry and the community, including companies that run landfills, which I have no problem with since landfill is necessary and can be run in the most environmentally friendly way possible. But I asserted then that the AHHA was claiming legitimacy it didn’t deserve from using the Landcare brand. It still does so in 2009. I still assert that Landcare Australia’s brand, and all it’s other supporter’s brands are diminished by the AHHA using the Landcare brand.  I never received a reply from Banrock Station.

I have in the past asserted that I should start the “Australian Ethical Home Heating Association” implying, quite deliberately, that the AHHA is not ethical. I will assert that again here too. I think how they misrepresented their motives to the local council, who passed their offer on to me, unquestioningly, was unethical.

I have in the past (circa 2003 and 2004) received abusive phone calls from the AHHA’s director, Bruce Mogg. One where he called me “a c*nt” and I told him not to call me again or I would complain to the police. I have not received any phone calls since. I will however make a formal complaint about those phone calls now if bothered by the AHHA again.

When their research unit suffered from a fire (their research unit tests manufacturer supplied wood burners for compliance to standards, not that they are the models that are for sale through retail outlets. The air holes can be different in the retail models to the testing models, which show that self-regulation isn’t working), I have half a memory of ringing them up and telling them I thought it was a good thing they were the victims of fire for once, instead of me. I think I only thought about calling them up, and didn’t actually call, but it’s a long time ago.

Here is some advice to people that I have to offer society that I have learnt from bitter experience:

If you are suffering from a neighbour’s wood smoke pollution and you complain to the local council and a local council officer suggests that the Australian Home Heating Association (or their New Zealand offshoot) could help out by talking to your neighbours, absolutely do not take them up on that offer. Insist that that does not happen, and insist that the AHHA not be informed of any of your particulars.

If you are a council officer and you are approached by the AHHA with such an offer of help, or you already have been, do not use their offer of help.

If you are a clean air campaigner and you are threatened with a defamation law suit, then don’t be scared. Be brave. You have a right to assert what you believe.

Everything in this blog I assert is true and correct. If they are not objective fact or science related claims and is a subjective opinion then it is my personal opinion. It is fair comment, made in good faith. I have the right to make such statements. I am happy to supply a reference for the substitution of tested models versus those for sale. I’ll have to go through my notes. I do have the reference somewhere, and I remember that one of the models for sale in Australian shops exceeded the lax Australian standards by 17 times. I am happy to provide that if asked.

I will feel very hard done by if I am pursued by the AHHA through the courts to make me shut up. It would be greatly unfair and unjust for them to do so. It would be a huge kick in the guts if they convinced some court to shut me up. I will defend myself against their hateful act of bullying to the best of my abilities. I am only a single individual using a free blogging service to speak my own mind in the way that I honestly see fit. I am a minnow up against a corporate behemoth. A small fish being squished by a huge hammer. Why does the AHHA fear me? Because I speak the truth, and I have a moral and just argument. The air should be clean. We should all demand the right to clean air, and be damned those who would pollute that air. They and their corporate profits can go to hell.

Definitely differing perspectives to the AHHA on wood smoke should be taken into account when defining public policy. The AHHA should not be seeking to shut those differing perspectives up. We wouldn’t allow cigarette companies to make health policy. We wouldn’t allow prisoners to run prisons. We should not allow wood stove manufacturers to set the pollution levels in Australian and New Zealand societies.

We have the right to demand clean air. You do not have the right to pollute it.

A coda:
Do I even think that the AHHA’s members’ products have a legitimate place in our community? No, I don’t. I cannot live within a couple hundred metres of one of their wood burners being used in the least damaging way that they themselves advise. How did I get so sensitive to woodsmoke? I got sensitised to woodsmoke from overexposure to woodsmoke. If I can’t live within a couple hundred metres of one of their members’ products where can I actually live? It’s a very good question and I still don’t know the answer to that. There aren’t any positions for lighthouse keepers anymore. Manned lighthouses were antiquated technology and we upgraded to automatic electric lighthouses. Woodburners, pot belly stoves, open fires, and all the other antiquated products should go the way of those old oil burning lighthouses. They should be a relic of the past. Just as the Ligthhouse Keeper’s Associations are probably defunct, I hope for the day when the AHHA is defunct, or has evolved into selling heat pumps and warm socks.


Responses

  1. [...] I’m getting sued for defamation by the Australian Home Heating Association Update: I’ve published the threats from the lawyers. I’ve also blogged the truth about the AHHA. [...]

  2. [...] AHHA has defamed me The nasty pollution and propaganda organisation, the Australian Home Heating Association, that once threatened to sue me for defamation for the truthful things I said about them in a [...]


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