Smoke from wood fires across Canberra causes up to 63 premature deaths each year, and is comparable to the impact of the smoke haze during the Black Summer fires, researchers say.
The researchers' paper said banning new wood heaters, phasing out existing units in suburban areas and supporting a "clean domestic energy transition" would have major health and environmental benefits.
"The consequence of current wood heater use in the ACT is 11 - 63 avoidable deaths, equivalent to $57-333 million in the annual cost of deaths, comparable with the 31 deaths in the ACT attributable to the bushfire smoke during the Black Summer of 2019-20," the paper said.
The research was completed before the ACT government in August announced wood heaters would be completely phased out in Canberra by 2045.
A team led by academics from the Australian National University cross referenced air quality data from three monitoring stations across the ACT with previous studies that calculated the impact of long-term PM2.5 pollution levels on health and mortality.
About 93 per cent of the territory's population lives within 10 kilometres of one of the three stations, which are located in Monash, Florey and the city centre.
The study considered air pollution data in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2022, which excluded the 2019 and 2020 Black Summer fire periods. During that 2019-20 period, Canberra recorded long periods with hazardous air quality and at times had the world's most polluted air.
The team defined the wood heater season as beginning on April 1 and lasting until September 30, and calculated the impact of wood heater emissions on the annual pollution average.
"Based on these estimates, the estimated annual number of deaths attributable to wood heater PM2.5 pollution was 17 to 26 during the colder three years and 11 or 15 during the milder two years using the most conservative exposure-response function," the paper said.
The research found the estimated number of deaths was between 43 and 63 in the colder years and 26 to 36 deaths in the milder years using the least conservative exposure-response function.
The research paper, published in the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia, said more air quality monitoring and modelling was needed to fully assess the impact of wood-fire heater smoke on the population.
Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti in August acknowledged banning wood-fire heaters in the territory would be divisive, but said Canberra needed to confront the reality that smoke is a direct source of pollution and was a clear and present danger to the community's well being.
"I appreciate many Canberrans grew up with wood-fired heaters and they offer nostalgic charm and comfort," she said.
The ACT's commissioner for sustainability and the environment, Sophie Lewis, had earlier recommended the government set a target date for replacing wood-fire heaters in all suburbs.