And anyone else with respiratory ailments …

Just keep suckin air … only eleven years till relief.

Effectively, that was the message delivered by Environment Minister Nick Smith last week when he announced his “review” of the healthy air standard dealing with small particle (PM10) pollution.

He came to Hawke’s Bay to make the announcement because our local politicians have been particularly loud in voicing opposition to the rules that would require compliance by 2013. So loud has been Mayor Yule’s opposition that he has gotten himself appointed to the Minister’s review group.

In Hawke’s Bay, as we should all know by now, the PM10 problem stems from woodburners. New woodburner technology would ameliorate the severe adverse health impacts of smoke from current equipment.

But a battle rages over the financial burden of installing better woodburners in the mandated timeframe. There are practical issues of new equipment availability and the pace of installation in such high numbers. And penalties could conceivably fall on businesses if, through no fault of theirs, by 2013 the standard was not met.

These issues deserve attention. But there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For example, a completely misleading “trade-off” has been proposed between keeping people warm in their homes “versus” giving them healthy air to breathe. As Mayor Yule has blogged: “It has always been my contention that there are far worse health outcomes from being cold in the winter than a small amount of air pollution. At night most people are inside keeping warm.” In fact, the issues are not unrelated. Both need to be addressed … and it’s smart to do both at the same time.

Instead, now the signal has been sent that central government will make the compliance problem go up in smoke. One way will be to allow more days of non-compliance. At present levels of PM10 pollution, this would let Napier (but not Hastings) off the hook. Another likely change will be to extend the compliance deadline to 2020. Of course, this change wouldn’t remove any costs of compliance, it would simply delay the day of reckoning for homeowners and landlords with non-compliant woodburners, while those suffering from respiratory (and related heart) problems continue to suffer.

Only a particularly smoke-addled group of local naysayers still deny the severe adverse health effects of PM10 pollution. Thankfully, the review will not reconsider the permitted concentration level of PM10 pollution itself — the health science is indisputable. So, it escapes me why — even if politicos decide they need to delay full compliance — some common sense measures are not mandated now, such as:

  • Requiring installation of higher standard compliant woodburners in all new home construction (or banning them in new homes if pollution projections indicate this is necessary), and in any renovation that involves heating equipment;
  • Requiring new compliant woodburners to be installed as a condition of sale for any home that presently has a non-compliant woodburner;
  • Maintaining an accelerated compliance schedule for landlords, who probably own a very significant share of the properties that presently have non-compliant woodburners. It’s obscene that landlords would be permitted to continue to profit, for years into the future, by renting out unhealthy homes.

The Minister’s review is scheduled to yield recommendations for Cabinet in February 2010. But meantime, why not at least capitalise upon the ongoing turnover of homes to get a start on the retrofitting process?

And since he is serving on a “technical” advisory group, perhaps Mayor Yule might start by getting himself a briefing from the Hawke’s Bay DHB. He would learn that one doesn’t escape winter PM10 pollution impacts by staying “inside keeping warm.”
Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. Quite right. The Budget funding for insulation and clean heating subsidies is a major step, and the Greens' other New Deal (food for review Tom?) stimulus too.

    The other concern is that, for years, National, Councils and others have called for more national direction in the form of standards under the RMA. Yet when a standard is set (the only one in fact), they are slow to implement it, then cry to get it weakened or revoked. Does this air pollution review make a mockery of national guidance under the RMA – will every standard be reviewed and stymied? Some argue this is a reason to abolish regional councils and have an EPA control the standards! I don't go that far, but it is pause for thought. Will the same happen with water standards – Councils will complain it is too hard to make rivers swimmable and a weak Government will back down?

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