Ironically, just as the Government released its latest report of NZ air quality, Hastings posted a June exceedance of the National Environmental Standard (NES) for small particulate matter (PM 10).

Just one exceedance. The Napier and Awatoto airsheds had none.

When PM10 monitoring began in 2005 (Napier, Marewa Park) and 2006 (Hastings, St John’s College), the PM10 exceedances were common – before 2014, 3-5 annually in Napier, while Hastings had 10 or more, concentrated in winter. The numbers have dropped to typically one at most in Napier and less than five in Hastings over the last five years. 

Under the NES, if exceedances exceed more than one per year over five years, the airshed is considered polluted and can face further regulatory requirements to reduce emissions. So Hastings is borderline and needs a couple of ‘good’ years to avoid the dog house.

And the job will get tougher. Because meantime the World Health Organisation has issued new guidelines that lower acceptable levels for both PM10 and PM2.5 (even smaller and more dangerous particles, deeper into lungs). 

In Hawke’s Bay, our biggest problem is emissions from lousy home heating in winter. Despite controversy 10-12 years ago (see this BayBuzz article), it’s fair to say HBRC attacked this problem vigorously by requiring a phase out of old wood burners by January 2020, accompanied by financial support to homeowners via the Heatsmart and Sustainable Homes schemes. Such emissions were knocked back approximately 67% between 2005 and 2020.

The Government’s report (you can download here) shows air pollution contributes to the premature deaths of more than 3,300 New Zealanders every year, and over 13,000 cases of childhood asthma. At the national level, the problem stems mainly from internal combustion engines … vehicle emissions.

I remember vividly when the HBRC woodburner phase-out was first mooted. Then-HBRC councillor, now born-again environmentalist Tim Gilbertson strenuously opposed the initiative, at one council meeting challenging the HBDHB advocate to show him “one dead body” from woodburner pollution.

Fortunately those days of idiocy are well behind us. But as standards toughen further responding to the documented health risks, HBRC and homeowners (especially those owning rental units) will still have more work to do.

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