PM10 refers to fine particle pollution in the air that is extremely harmful to health, especially for children, whose lungs are still developing, and the elderly, whose cardiovascular systems are more likely to be already compromised.
Particulate pollution is associated with heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, asthma attacks, reduced lung function and bronchitis. These impacts result in premature deaths from heart and lung disease, as well as hospital admissions, emergency room visits, absences from school or work, and restricted activities related to asthma attacks.
Make no mistake, PM10 is nasty stuff that must be regulated, as a new standard enacted by central government and coming into effect in 2013 proposes to do. Indeed, PM10 is considered a “no threshold contaminant,” meaning that there is no known safe level below which adverse effects will not occur.
Wellington did not invent this health hazard. If any local elected official tries to tell you that PM10 should not be regulated — and its sources mitigated — they are grossly irresponsible. Tell them to go suck on a tailpipe.
The bottom line: PM10 pollution must be reduced by 71% in Hastings and 47% in Napier to comply with the new standard by 2013.
Now, as it turns out, by far the chief source of PM10 in Hawke’s Bay is domestic heating — open fires and wood burners — in Hastings and Napier. So curbing PM10 will be traumatic, threatening iconic notions of “hearth and home,” to say nothing of pocketbooks.
Proposals to reduce PM10 pollution currently center on mandatory conversion of existing sub-standard heating systems on a large scale … in the neighborhood of 20,000 homes with solid fuel burners would be affected. Complicating matters further, many of these burners are in homes of low and/or limited income people.
So naturally, local elected officials are frazzled. Some are in outright denial that a hazard exists. Some are castigating central government for draconian regulation (often these are the same politicians and officials who bellyache when lack of precise guidelines causes uncertainties and inconsistencies under the RMA). Some, more reasonably, want to make sure every possible option and combination of options for mitigating the hazard is considered, before only “extreme” measures are implemented. And some would like to see a more holistic “healthy and sustainable homes” approach adopted where the objective of reducing PM10 pollution is addressed along with other related objectives like improving home insulation to reduce energy consumption.
The strategy for complying with the new standard must be set by the Regional Council. Recognising the public controversy sure to ensue, the HBRC is planning a robust program of public outreach to educate residents about the nature of the health risk, the requirements that must be met, and the options that must be considered to mitigate the risk. This outreach will include public “expos” in Hastings and Napier, as well as individual meetings with a broad range of stakeholder agencies, business interests and NGOs.
During this outreach process, local elected officials have a choice to make. They can exploit the process to fuel public resistance to addressing what is a real health hazard and to deflect public ire onto Wellington villains. Or they can use the process to educate the public and search for the most proportionate and equitable approaches to dealing with the problem.
For those of you who want to get a head start on understanding the issues involved, here is the Regional Council’s briefing paper.
“Clean, green” carries enormous economic opportunity for Hawke’s Bay and NZ. But “clean, green” isn’t going to be cheap and easy any more … on so many fronts, those days are over. Politicians need to begin fronting up to the public about this reality.