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Old burners out, cleaner air on way

A 2018 photograph of Masterton’s hazy Cole St in winter. PHOTO/FILE

EMMA BROWN
[email protected]

Masterton exceeded the World Health Organisation guidelines for air quality 39 days during winter last year.

Air quality is influenced by particles in the air which are small enough to be inhaled and can be measured in terms of size such as coarse dust particles such as those present in the air over Masterton.

The World Health Organisation allows for three exceedances for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres [PM2.5] and one exceedance for particulate matter less than 10 micrometres [PM10].

During the colder months [May 1 – October 31 2019], Masterton East’s air quality measured at Chanel College exceeded the standard for PM2.5 for 39 days.

This is slightly better from 44 days in 2018.

Masterton West’s air quality measured at Wairarapa College exceeded the standard for PM2.5 34 days.

This is higher than 28 in 2018.

Masterton East and Masterton West’s air quality exceeded the standard for PM10 nine times.

Proposed amendments to air quality regulations made public last week aim to improve air quality and support better health and environment as winter continues to spike with air pollution.

“Although our air quality is good in most places, during winter certain places have spikes in air pollution, mainly from burning wood and coal for home heating,” Associate Environment Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

“This can have severe health impacts for several communities.”

Under the proposed amendments, households already using solid-fuel burner appliances for heating could use their existing burners until they reach the end of their life.

If they choose to replace their burner, they may need to replace the appliance with a lower-emission burner. Households on large properties over two hectares would remain excluded from these requirements.

“We are not proposing the removal of existing burners because we need to balance air quality improvements with the ability of households to maintain warm and dry homes,” Mahuta said.

She said the proposed amendments would bring standards in line with international standards and amount to about a $820 million saving of health care costs over the next 10 years.

At present, more than 90 per cent of the burners on the market would meet the proposed standard.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Stephen Palmer said winter exceedances had occurred for many years – “this is not a new issue”.

“When looking at air quality readings, from a health perspective, higher ambient or average readings across the year better correlate with increases in the burden of health problems.”

“It is likely that some Masterton people will experience health problems linked to poor ambient air quality, such as premature death or hospital admissions for respiratory illness, lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.”

“Regional and district councils need to work together to create policy which will improve air quality, similar to what has occurred in Christchurch.”

A Greater Wellington Regional Council spokesperson said they had been measuring PM2.5 to track air quality trends at Masterton West since 2011 and Masterton East since 2014.

“So far, the trends in the number of high pollution days are not clear and the decreasing trend between 2011 and 2016 appears to have been reversed from 2017 to 2019.”

“We are not sure whether this trend reflects changes in weather patterns or changes in local emissions or a combination of both factors.”

They said the high daily PM2.5 measurements during the winter months were due to emissions of fine particles from burning of solid fuels [wood and coal] for home heating.

The number of high pollution days varies from year to year and is largely driven by differences in the weather patterns between years.

Masterton District Council strategic planning manager Tania Madden said the council had been working with the regional council who were responsible for air quality in the district to promote awareness and encourage behaviour change.

“Over winter 2018, the two councils also jointly undertook an air quality survey to better understand air quality issues in the district.

“We have committed to undertaking a feasibility study to explore options for supporting wood-burner replacements – this is an action in our He Hiringa Tangata, He Hiringa Whenua Well-being Strategy Implementation Plan.

“One of our priorities in that strategy is clean air.”

Both councils were yet to make a submission on the proposed changes to the national environmental standard for air quality.

“However, in principle we support moving from a PM10 to a PM2.5 standard as this follows international practice and reflects the health evidence that exposure to PM2.5 is more strongly associated with adverse impacts than PM10,” a regional council spokesperson said.

“The proposed review won’t affect our monitoring programme as we have already been monitoring and reporting on PM2.5 in Masterton for many years.”

“The main impact of the proposed new PM2.5 standard is that it will be more difficult to meet than the current PM10 standard – to meet the new PM2.5 standard, a bigger reduction in home heating emissions is needed.”

A two-month consultation on the proposal is open and will run until April 24.

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