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Call to reduce home-heating emissions due to air quality concerns - LAWA

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As temperatures drop, the team at LAWA are encouraging people to help keep the air in our towns and cities healthy by using clean home-heating methods. 

In New Zealand, burning wood or coal for home heating is the main source of harmful particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) in our air. An increase in the number of people working from home due to COVID-19, combined with cooler weather, means we could see an increase in home heating emissions this winter. Breathing polluted air can lead to lung and heart problems with vulnerable populations most affected.

LAWA Air Quality Lead and Environment Canterbury Air Quality Analyst Teresa Aberkane explained while New Zealand towns and cities recorded below average levels of air pollution during COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, things may have been different if lockdown happened over winter. 

"During lockdown, traffic pollution dropped significantly at roadside locations which you would expect with fewer vehicles on the road. This is good news, however unlike most developed countries, cars are not our primary air quality polluters. New Zealand’s dominant source of PM10 and PM2.5 air pollution comes from people burning wood and coal to heat their homes. 

"If lockdown had coincided with winter rather than during a dry autumn, we could have seen record particulate matter exceedances," said Ms Aberkane. 

It is important for people to stay warm in their homes over the cooler months, and there are different home heating methods available to suit different circumstances, that contribute less pollution. The cleanest home heating appliances include heat pumps, pellet burners, or ultra-low emission burners. The next best alternatives are electric, gas, or oil heaters.

Clean heating may not always be an option. To reduce emissions from wood burners, people should only burn dry, non-treated wood from a trusted supplier and use an efficient burning technique. 

Burning damp wood produces more harmful emissions and burning treated and painted wood (timber) emits toxins into the air. Recent research by GNS Science in partnership with regional councils and unitary authorities has discovered lead and arsenic pollution in urban air from people burning painted wood. 

Regional councils and unitary authorities are responsible for managing air quality in New Zealand. As part of this management they operate a network of air quality monitoring stations (results are available on the LAWA website) alongside education and enforcement programmes. 

Chair of Local Government New Zealand Regional Sector and Bay of Plenty Council Doug Leeder has a message for people buying wood.

"We know from monitoring results reported on LAWA that air quality has improved over the past 10-years. We also know some places still exceed guidelines from time to time.

"We breathe what you burn, so be wary of people selling wet or treated wood. Bad wood is usually available at prices too good to be true and will pollute your household and neighbourhood.

"Refrain from burning waste outdoors and if you see or smell excessive air pollution, let your regional authority know," said Mr Leeder.

People with an interest in air quality can have their say on Government proposed changes to air quality regulations. The amendments aim to better control the release of fine particles into our air and consultation has been extended through to the 31st of July via the Ministry for the Environment website:

For up-to-the-hour and historical results from air quality monitoring stations across New Zealand visit the LAWA website:

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