Smoke blanketing Masterton’s Cole St on June 30. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
‘It’s worse on the [east] side of town because they are getting a double whammy’
Bad air is getting between the east side of Masterton and some of its smoky neighbours.
Data shows the east side of town records far more bad air days in winter, based on national and international guidelines, but it’s not all down to home fires in the area.
And despite education programmes by Greater Wellington Regional Council and Masterton District Council, guidelines continue to be exceeded.
Regional council senior environment scientist of air quality Tamsin Mitchell said on cold, clear nights, air flowed down from the Tararua Range, moving towards lower lying areas in the east. It took with it emissions from the western side, and adding to the emissions in the area.
“So, it’s worse on the other [east] side of town because they are getting a double whammy.”
It has come as news to a community leader on the eastern side of town.
Te Awhina Cameron Community House co-ordinator Donna Gray said she had not noticed any difference in air quality to that on the western side of town, but the results were clear.
Two types of coarse dust particles are measured in the air over Masterton – 2.5 micrometres in diameter [PM2.5] and 10 micrometres [PM10].
These airborne particles are too small for the human eye to see – in comparison, a grain of sand is around 90 micrometres in size.
But they can cause adverse health impacts ranging from irritation of the nasal tracts to respiratory and cardiac disease, and even premature death.
National Environmental Standards, which set a limit to ensure a minimum level of health protection, allow one day exceedance per year for PM10 particles.
World Health Organisation guidelines allow for three days of exceedances of PM2.5 per year.
Halfway through this winter, Masterton has already five times exceeded the NES for PM10 particles, compared with four times over the same period last year, and 16 times for PM2.5 guidelines.
While there have been fewer “high pollution nights” for PM2.5 this winter, down from 33 exceedances for the same period last year, the number is still well above WHO guidelines.
Michell said while any exceedance was a concern, it was promising to see fewer PM2.5 exceedances.
She said many factors contributed to air quality pollution levels, with weather patterns a strong influence.
“We’ve had a wet and unsettled June which may have contributed to improved air quality – as rain is effective at clearing the air.
“However, it’s important to remember that meeting guidelines and standards doesn’t necessarily equal zero harm and that the cleaner our air is, the healthier our communities will be.”
Mitchell said the regional council had been monitoring PM2.5 in Masterton for several years as it was a better indicator for health impacts from wood smoke.
From May to August last year, Masterton east, measured at Chanel College, exceeded WHO guidelines for PM2.5 on 43 days, and Masterton west on 28.
In 2016, Masterton east exceeded the PM2.5 guideline on 35 days, and Masterton west on 19 days.
There are no regulatory consequences for not meeting the WHO guidelines.
For resident Robert Notley, who lives on the northern edge of Masterton, air quality in the winter can irritate his emphysema.
Notley spoke to the Times-Age during winter last year when his condition would flare-up after breathing in cold wood-smoke air.
Last year was particularly bad for him.
However, winter so far this year has “been a bit better”, he said.
Notley is more concerned about the residents in town who are breathing the polluted air.
He encouraged Masterton residents with old wood burners to make the most of regional council financial support for replacing heating appliances.
Landlords can receive up to $5000 to buy and install heating or insulation. This is repaid through payments added their rates over nine years.
Health impacts of bad air
High air pollution can lead to several health issues from asthma to heart problems, and now diabetes a study shows.
On average, a person inhales around 14,000 litres of air every day, if that air is not clean, adults with chronic heart or lung disease and children and asthmatics are likely to be affected by air pollution.
The two types of coarse dust particles measured in the air over Masterton – 2.5 micrometres in diameter [PM2.5] and 10 micrometres [PM10], both contribute.The National Environmental Standard only monitors PM10 particles.
In 2012, health implications from PM10 particles contributed to 1000 premature deaths and 520 extra hospital admissions for respiratory issues, according to a Ministry for the Environment report in 2014.
Air pollution has also been identified as a contributor to diabetes, according to a study by the Washington University School of Medicine.
The study estimated air pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases across the world in 2016.