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.

Tom

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7 Comments

  1. While there are significant costs to changing our heating sources in order to reduce PM10, but there are significant benefits to reducing the pollution. The difficulty for the community and Council is that the financial and logistical costs to residents are very tangible, while the health and environmental benefits of the change are intangible.

    However, there is one intangible cost that is very real to many people – the primal romance of the open fire. This cannot be mitigated or replaced easily, but in my mind it is a sacrifice we must make for the health of our society. Smoking cigarettes has a traditional romance too, but at a large cost.

    In moving to improve public health by reducing PM10, we must be careful not create new health and environmental costs, such as people being left with no heating option or new clean heating but no insulation and therefore high fuel/power bills.

    Fortunately, the Green Party has established a $1billion "Green homes" fund for insulation and clean heating, which will go a long way to helping the community and councils to transition to clean heating and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. See my statement of 2 weeks ago on this matter:
    http://greenhawkesbay.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/gr
    Also see http://eeca.govt.nz/index.html

  2. First of all Tom. Let’s come clean.

    I don’ know what kind of heating you have, or if you are sipping a chardonnay in front of your fire as you read this, but I do know that you won’t be affected by our HBRC rules for dealing with the air pollution problem because you live in the country.

    Unlike me.

    My family and I will be possible forced to get rid of our open fire in two years time, which will result in a change in lifestyle which disturbs us greatly.

    In our home we all love sitting round the fire on the cold winter nights eating, talking, viewing, relaxing, enjoying each other’s company-Tom tell me what else compares with that exquisite pleasure.

    Much of the wood is harvested from our own trees, or those of friends, and is a seasonal task we share and a chance for our children to directly participate in a chore than enhances their wellbeing.

    It is something we have been doing for countless generations, in fact it is a primal desire and poems have been written about it….

    ‘When you are old and grey , and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read and dream of the soft look your eyes had once…..( WB Yeats)

    Yes I do want to be an old lady sitting round the fire- is that selfish?

    Is it really essential to give up that pleasure when it is causing other people- and maybe ourselves- health hazards?

    Or is it that the PM 10 emitting from our fire is minimal, if we use dry wood and don’t leave it going all night.

    (It’s wet wood- recently cut and full of sap- which causes the most problem.)

    Life is not that simple any more- when these government regulations were brought in circa 2004 we were mainly unaware of some of the big problems that are facing us now, like climate change, and the shortage of electricity. Alternative energies weren’t discussed readily as they are today.

    Converting to so called ‘clean heat’ for many means installing a heat pump- if you can afford it.

    One of the big effects of installing a heat pump is that your power bill goes up, another is that we will require more electricity, and not only in winter, but also in summer, as folks use their appliances as an air conditioner to cool air.

    So there’s another problem. And I thought we needed to reduce emissions, not increase them!

    Already we are using more electricity than we are producing, and to make more energy companies are talking about damming pristine rivers in the south island and drowning virgin rain forest- that’s what they mean when they talk about ‘renewable energy’, except that you can’t recreate West Coast’s Mohikinui Valley once its gone.

    ( Meridian energy wants to put an 85 metre dam there)

    Power bills- yes we have noticed how it is getting harder to pay the bills. and one third of our residents are earning under $30,000 a year- so how fair is it to burden these people further? Many of them do save money on heating by gathering their own wood.

    Insulating homes is another important facet of staying healthy- how many people die from the health effects of being cold compared with those that die from dirty air?

    And how much money is going in to enacting this new legislation- say $40 million locally, which could be used to improve health standards in other ways, such as insulating homes, as the Greens have recommended. In Canterbury the regional council spent $10 million on administration costs alone when they dealt with this problem!

    As a regional councillor, the HBRC is tasked with making all this happen.

    My hope is we can all work together as a community in coming up with creative and proactive solutions including installing solar panels for electricity.

    It has got to be better to avoid such nasties as the 'smoke police' which smacks of Berlin before the wall came down.

    But how do you think we should handle this problem?

    Watch this space…..

    PS Quentin if you think smoking is romantic, when is the last time you kissed a smoker?

  3. Touche, Liz. About a year ago. I meant romantic in the way that movies often portray smoking. I dislike smoking immensely, for the record! You raise good points Liz. I think we all agree there is need to engage the community on the solutions.

  4. I'm with you Liz, particularly on the big question of how low-income residents will manage to stay warm in winter without being allowed to use their fireplaces or wood burners.

    Let's see some comparitive statistics on the costs to the taxpayer of having a significant proportion of the population (who can't afford increased power costs) being forced to live in cold, damp, uninsulated houses; versus the cost of pollution caused by using fireplaces or wood burners.

    And if we're trying to restrict the discharge of pollutants into the environment by banning the source of such pollution, then why not ban motor vehicles! Why hasn't that idea been mooted??

    No, seriously, we need to work collectively with the community, central government, all local territorial authorities, the DHB AND the Power Trust, Tom, look at how we can keep people warm in winter without further polluting the air and driving low-income people further into debt.

  5. I have long had a suspicion that BayBuzz was the PR Arm of the Green Party, this article confirms it for me. Pure, unadulterated old fashioned political scare tactics. Sorry BayBuzz, but I think that most Kiwis have a maturity which shows it for what it is.

    I have made personal examples that ridicule the hypothesis, and will happily provide to anyone interested. However, I would warn you that these have been dismissed as anecdotal evidence, and therefore carry no weight.

    My reply to that is I am talking about real people known to me, living their long lives in an environment many, many times worse than experienced anywhere in NZ.

    To Bay Buzz, a question, can you tell me why, in Beijing, with a population of 10 million plus, and a constant pollution level, day and night, day in and day out, month in and month out, with pollution levels measured in the hundreds, why there are not thousands dying daily ?

    Or do you also want to classify the example of those people as anecdotal evidence.

    Sincerely,

    Philip M Ward

    Greenmeadows

  6. A quick google tells me Beijing pop 13,800,000

    Death rate 5.1/1000

    Thats 192.8 deaths a day

    There you go

    Useless question,useless answer

  7. To Peter McLean,

    Your statistics are appreciated, However, you do not identify what these these deaths are attributed to, Old Age, Bird Flu, Anti Government protesting, or milk contamination.

    Philip M Ward

    PS Have you noticed the silence by BayBuzz on my accusation of them being the Publicity Arm of the Green Party.

    I do hope they have either presented themselves to the Electoral Commission and sought permission to spend up to $100,000 on behalf of the Greens. Somehow, why am I reminded of the Exclusive Bretheren.

    Philip

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