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Air quality breaches increase


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Masterton exceeded the World Health Organisation guidelines for air quality 44 days this winter.

This is worse than last year’s exceedance of 35 days, but comes as no surprise to experts in the field.

Now, a regional health officer, climate scientist and sustainability officer all say they want to see the air quality improved, and say major steps need to be taken for that to happen.

Coarse dust particles such as those present in the air over Masterton are 2.5 (PM2.5) to 10 (PM10) micrometres in diameter.

From May to August this year, Masterton East’s air quality, measured at Chanel College, exceeded the standard of PM2.5 by 44 days, and Masterton West by 28.

The World Health Organisation guidelines allow for three days above its required level of PM2.5.

Masterton East also exceeded the standard of PM10 by five days this winter, and Masterton West, measured at Wairarapa College, by three, compared to the National Environment Standards allowance of one day above target.

Masterton is prone to air pollution in winter from the use of solid fuels for home heating, such as wood fires, coupled with its location in the low-lying inland valley.

Last year, Masterton East exceeded the PM2.5 target by 35 days, and Masterton West by 19.

Greater Wellington Regional Council Air and Climate team leader Tamsin Mitchell said the jump in PM2.5 particle exceedances compared to last year “is not good”.

This year’s figures were likely related to July having lower temperatures and wind speeds compared with 2016 – with the calm and cold conditions allowing wood smoke levels to build up, Ms Mitchell said.

“Although the longer-term trend in PM2.5 levels appears to be tracking down, more work needs to be done to reduce PM2.5 levels for healthier air.

“The smaller the particle is the more damaging it is to heath, especially for people with underlying heart or respiratory conditions, the elderly and children.”

The very fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and some may enter the bloodstream, she said.

Wellington region medical officer of health Stephen Palmer said the exceedances were not satisfactory.

Changing habits was about improving other people’s health, not just your own, he said.

There were many factors in reducing air quality exceedances but it was ultimately up to the people of Masterton to make that happen, he said.

Everyone played a role including the councils.

They need to “work more closely and accept dual responsibility, set some goals and aspirations which hasn’t been done yet”.

The poor air quality seems to be a link to poor health, not just respiratory illnesses but also heart disease and asthma, he said.

Dr Palmer will be carrying out a project to collect data from hospital admissions due to air quality to present to councils which will paint a better picture of the health effects.

Masterton District Council sustainability advisor Agnes Piatek-Bednarek said MDC worked alongside GWRC to promote clean burning during winter.

They have focused on an educational campaign on steps that can be taken at no additional cost to those using wood burners, she said.

“We are also working with GWRC to develop a community behavioural change programme next winter, aimed at improving air quality in Masterton.”

Masterton’s Robert Notley, an emphysema sufferer, said the number of exceedances “would be a concern for anyone”.

Mr Notley spoke to the Times-Age in early July about the effects Masterton’s air quality had on his health.

While he admits he did not suffer as much this year as he did last, air quality was still a concern for everyone’s health.

Mr Notley said for those taking up the council’s initiative, it was not just about health, but the environment too.

Five steps to reduce wood smoke

Burn cleaner – You shouldn’t see any visible smoke.

Only burn dry, seasoned wood that has been split, stacked, covered and stored to keep it dry.

Don’t use wood that is damp or wet from rain.

Provide sufficient air to the fire – never let it smoulder.

Don’t burn plastic, disposable nappies, electrical cables, treated timber and fibreboard, rubber products, waste oils or domestic rubbish. These items release toxins that are particularly bad for our air quality.

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