ARMIDALE's air quality has been measured among the world's worst, new readings have found.
On Monday, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPIE)'s air quality index (AQI) reading for Armidale was 127 pollutant particles per cubic metre of air.
The AQI reading at times exceeded 160, which meant the city's air was rated as very poor and was nearly twice as bad as Sydney.
Meanwhile, IQ Air recorded Armidale's AQI as being 163, which placed it worse than New Delhi, which sat at 151.
University of New England health and medicine associate professor Navjot Bhullar said poor air quality could lead to a variety of health concerns.
"There are a range of negative health effects of wood smoke pollution," associate professor Bhullar said.
"Evidence suggests that exposure to residential wood fire smoke (that comprises PM2.5) is associated with cardiovascular and respiratory illness.
"Specific studies have found wood smoke exposure to be associated with increased incidence of severe respiratory infections, wheeze and congestion, cough, sore throat, chest tightness and phlegm, and asthma, and moderate to severe shortness of breath."
Associate professor Bhullar said wood heaters were the main culprit for Armidale's poor winter air quality.
"Winter air pollution levels in Armidale regularly exceed the national standard for airborne particulate matter," she said.
"A significant amount of these winter emissions come from wood burning heaters, the main source of heating for about one third of all households in the city."
Long-time air quality reform advocate Dorothy Robinson said the time was right for action to be taken to improve the city's air quality.
"Studies have shown poor air quality can amplify the risks of coronavirus," Dr Robinson said.
"If we were to begin to reform and change out a lot of wood heaters with more eco-friendly alternatives it would be a real win-win situation.
"You would be stimulating the economy by employing people to install the new heat sources while lowering the risk of COVID-19. I certainly think now is the right time to act."
Dr Robinson said some parts of Armidale were more impacted than others.
"I think across the state there are some places that may be worse off than what is being recorded," she said.
"However, there are certainly places south and east of the city that would record higher readings than the NSW DPIE's.
"It certainly is a big issue."
Associate professor Bhullar said a change in attitude toward wood heaters was key in improving the city's air quality.
"Our research has found that incorrect wood heater operation (related to starting up, ongoing fuelling, overnight burning) is one of the key causes of wood smoke pollution," she said.
"In our research, we have also found that substantial segments of the city residents do not believe that wood smoke poses a serious threat and are opposed to regulatory restrictions on wood burning."