Cracking down on air pollution

21:40, Nov 01 2012
Richmond pollution
CLEARING THE SMOKE: Richmond's air pollution has improved since this photo was taken from Valhalla Drive in 2001, but the town's air quality is still a long way off meeting Government standards.

The owners of Richmond’s 85 smokiest homes are being asked to attend a meeting later this month as Tasman District Council tackles one of the worst instances of winter air pollution for years.

Council communications manager Chris Choat said the council was disappointed by Tasman’s performance last winter after particles from smoky fires led to national air quality standards being breached 16 times.

This was a backslide for Richmond after the area totalled 11 breaches in 2011 and seven in 2010.

‘‘Even accounting for the cold weather, this result shows wood and coal burners are not being used properly,’’ Mr Choat said.

In September Richmond was highlighted as one of New Zealand’s 22 worst air-polluting areas, news which council resource scientist Trevor James said he had been expecting since 2000.

Richmond had to reduce pollution and not exceed national air quality standards more than three times each year by 2016 and once a year by 2021 to comply with revised legislation from the Ministry for the Environment.

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If the target is not met, the council’s ability to grant industrial discharge consents to air is forfeited.

Mr James said the council’s compliance department had been understaffed last winter after several people had left, and the workload had made it hard for the remaining staff to personally speak to everybody who had a smoky fire.

He said the compliance team had gone out during three nights in June and July to pick out the properties causing the most smoke. In a September council meeting, it was reported that 85 houses were to be mostly causing the smoke problems by dampening down fires at night, not cleaning chimneys, burning damp wood or smothering their fires with too much wood.

Mr James estimated the group represented 20 per cent of Richmond’s population but caused around 85 per cent of air pollution, mostly through legal use of older wood burners.

The council preferred to take a ‘‘friendly’’ approach to this group of people, Trevor said.

It would ‘‘ramp up’’ the pressure if there was no sign of effort or improvement by invoking regulations stating, ‘‘discharge must not result in any objectionable or offensive smoke, odour, or deposition of particles beyond the property boundary’’, but he hoped they could come to a solution before that point.

Mr James said the council would be proactive about changing residents’ behaviour to meet the target.

‘‘We’re not going to wait until 2016 ... We’re not just standing off, hoping.’’