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Published: 2010-08-23 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is welcoming a new geothermal system which has replaced the coal-fired boiler at Taupo Hospital, saying it will contribute to improving air quality in the town.

Smoke from coal and wood fires puts potentially harmful PM10 particles into the air and Taupo is one of the main towns in the Waikato region where PM10 levels exceed health standards in winter.

The coal-fired boiler at Taupo Hospital burned about 340 tonnes of coal a year but it has this month been replaced by a boiler which uses clean, renewable geothermal energy for heating. Coal will only now be used in emergencies. Lakes District Health Board says the $330,000 conversion underlines its commitment to air quality.

EW environmental chemist Nick Kim calculates the coal-fired boiler produced about 6800 kilograms of PM10 a year, equivalent to the output of about 360 homes using wood and coal (and equal to about eight per cent of the Taupo houses currently heated by such fires).

Dr Kim said that, due to a range of technical issues, it was difficult to quantify exactly how much the replacement of the boiler would contribute to reduced PM10 levels in different parts of Taupo during the key winter months when health standards were exceeded.

“But I think it is safe to say that the switch to the new boiler will make a significant contribution to cleaner air in the town, particularly near the hospital, and this will hopefully reduce the risk of health problems related to PM10 in Taupo.”

Dr Kim said homeowners could also help reduce PM10 levels by insulating their houses better, thereby reducing the amount of fuel needed for warmth.

Burning only dry wood is also strongly recommended by EW, as is avoiding the use in fires of treated, painted, green and wet wood, plywood, particle board rubbish, plastic and cardboard.

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