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Air quality breach triggers open fire place restrictions in Putaruru

A breach of national air pollution standards in Putaruru earlier this year has triggered a restriction on the future use of new open fireplaces in the home and an extension of the town’s classification as a “polluted airshed”.

The practical outcome of these measures required under the Ministry for the Environment’s National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ) is:

  • to ban the use of any new open fireplaces installed in homes in the Putaruru airshed on or after 9 April next year
  • to extend the time for which special restrictions apply on industrial discharges to air.

While this breach of the NESAQ is not necessarily indicative of a worsening trend in air quality, it will be important to keep a lid on PM10 levels in the air as they can get into lungs and cause serious health problems. The restrictions are aimed at preventing any increase in the amount of PM10 particles being emitted to Putaruru’s air. PM10 is made up of particles 10 microns in diameter or less. The main source of PM10 in Putaruru, as in other Waikato towns where it is a problem, is solid fuel burning in domestic heating fires.

Waikato Regional Council monitoring at its Arapuni Street site has shown the PM10 standard was exceeded in Putaruru twice within a 12 month period on 13 March 2014 and 8 April 2014. A breach of the NESAQ occurs when more than one exceedance occurs within a 12 month period, said regional council scientist Jonathan Caldwell.

As a result of this breach, any solid-fuel burning, open fireplace installed within a home on or after 9 April 2014 will not be able to be used.

People will still be able to use enclosed fireplaces, such as woodburners, installed prior to and after 9 April 2014. They could also keep using existing open fireplaces, Dr Caldwell said. However, he said the use of open fireplaces is a very inefficient method of home heating.

The breach also extends the period during which industrial restrictions apply to any business or industry which wants to introduce a new and large discharge of PM10 to air or an existing industry wanting to increase its consented PM10 discharges to air within Putaruru. To obtain consent for an increase they will be required to get someone else to reduce their discharge by the same amount.

“The new restrictions are unfortunate as Putaruru’s air quality has been improving,” Dr Caldwell said.

“There had been no more than one exceedance a year for the past four years. Unfortunately the two exceedances earlier this year has triggered the new open fireplace ban in homes and extended industrial restrictions.

“Before that, we had hoped to lift Putaruru’s status as a polluted airshed by the end of this year. Now, to get that status lifted, Putaruru will need to have no more than one exceedance per 12 month period for another five years,” Dr Caldwell said.

“A particularly cold winter could easily reverse the improving trend we have seen in recent years. Burning dry wood, using a Ministry for the Environment authorised woodburner with a regularly swept flue and not dampening down fires will help reduce smoke.”

While the industrial restrictions can be lifted once Putaruru has five years in a row of no more than one exceedance per 12 month period, the ban on using new open fireplaces installed in a home on or after 9 April next year would remain indefinitely, Dr Caldwell added.

The South Waikato District Council (SWDC) already has schemes in place to assist its communities with smarter burning.

Ratepayers in Putaruru, including landlords, can apply to the Heat Swap scheme to have non-compliant fires in residential properties replaced by adding the cost to their rates over a nine year period.

Several wood suppliers in the South Waikato have signed up to the Burnwise scheme, and are committed to supplying good wood and wood burning advice to their communities.

Central Government funds the Warm Up NZ: Healthy Homes programme to assist homeowners including landlords with insulation (criteria applies).

For more information on these schemes contact SWDC on 07 885 0340 or visit www.southwaikato.govt.nz.

More information on PM10 in the Waikato region, can be found at www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/air.

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