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Wood smoke still an issue

Smoke wafts across Essex St, Masterton. PHOTO/FILE

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A car driving around Masterton last winter with air quality monitoring equipment on board found pollution is worst in low lying areas of the east, in Lansdowne and Solway South.

The survey was carried out by Greater Wellington Regional Council on eight evenings from June 15 to July 4 last year. The SmokeTrak instrument in the car took 17,839 five second measurements of air with a concentration of particle matter of 2.5 micrometres, known as PM2.5.

Wood smoke is a mix of gas and fine particles that are not completely burnt. They can contain cancer-causing pollutants and if the wood being burnt has been ground treated, harmful pollutants can include arsenic.

“The measurements show that air quality varied strongly over small distances and from night to night,” a GWRC report says.

Masterton’s air quality has been improving but there are challenges during the winter months because 68 per cent of households burn wood for home heating, a separate report to Masterton District Council’s community well-being committee says.

During still, cool weather the smoke doesn’t disperse and topography can contribute to temperature inversions, where smoke is trapped.

Pollution peaks on winter evenings during calm, cold weather.

The GWRC report recommends the areas with high concentrates be prioritised for education.

“The Masterton township has air quality that does not meet New Zealand’s National Environmental Standard for Air Quality,” the GWRC report says.

“It also experiences many days when fine particle air pollution fails to meet World Health Organisation guidelines.”

Some areas had worse pollution than the official air quality monitoring site in Masterton East.

There are two stationary air quality monitoring sites in Masterton, one in the west and one in the east.

There are lower concentrations of particles during the middle of the day, increasing from 4pm to 7pm and peaking about 10pm, then declining with a smaller peak around 9am in the morning.

The highest PM2.5 concentrations are found after 10pm in the evening in lower lying areas of the town – Masterton East, Lansdowne and Solway South.

Clusters of particularly high PM2.5 emissions were identified in some spots that require further investigation. The report recommends a further study using a distributed network of low-cost sensors in “hot spot” areas.

The lowest PM2.5 concentrations were found outside the main urban area and in elevated areas of Lansdowne.


  1. I have one of those PM2.5 meters. The pollution levels inside can be even higher than outside – no matter how well sealed your house is. Houses breathe. Wood burning in urban areas is about the most anti-social and un-neighbourly thing you can possibly do. It’s no different to climbing through your neighbour’s kids bedroom windows and chain smoking cigarettes in there all night. Worse actually – it’s far more toxic than second hand cigarette smoke. It should be banned immediately and govt should pay for alternative heating – and it should be a higher priority than semi-auto rifles. It was studied and found wood smoke kills 1500 kiwis a year – that’s one Christchurch EVERY TWO WEEKS. 4x the road toll. 2nd hand smoke kills 100. According to the same report it costs the country 2.4 billion a year – they could hand out free heat pumps and insulation and actually save money. Heat pumps can do a lounge and a couple of bedrooms for a dollar a day. Winter energy payment is more than enough to run two.

  2. The science is clear that all wood smoke contains a host of the same toxic chemicals that are also in tobacco smoke. These include lead, mercury, arsenic, formaldehyde and many more that are bundled with its black carbon soot fine particulates. Don’t be fooled by “burn clean” promotions by our governments, in cahoots with the wood burning industry, that imply burning clean, dry wood is okay. It isn’t. For the facts, see http://www.familiesforcleanair.org.

  3. The evidence clearly shows and environmental health experts all agree that residential wood smoke is just as serious to your health as second cigarette smoke. However, the wood heating industry, just like the tobacco industry of the 70’s and 80’s is in denial. Nothing will happen until the public demands action to protect their health, just as public awareness and pressure forced politicians to protect the public from second hand cigarette smoke.

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