Something in the air down here

SHELLEY ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014

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Otago is the country's smoggiest region.

Regional council data on high pollution days this year shows the worst-affected areas are in the lower South Island. Otago Regional Council recorded 136 high pollution days, compared to Environment Canterbury's (ECan) 70.

Both regions blame domestic heating.

All regions must meet new government-initiated air-quality standards of no more than three high pollution days by 2016.

If the new standards applied now, only three regional councils would make the grade.

The troublesome "inversion" layer, which keeps smog under a layer of warm air with no breeze to disperse it, is present in Christchurch, Timaru, Alexandra, Arrowtown, Cromwell and Rotorua. Alexandra has had 15 consecutive high-pollution days.

There are harsh penalties for councils that do not meet the standards, including the possible appointment of commissioners.

Environment Minister Amy Adams said penalties were reflective of the Government's "all or nothing" powers with local bodies.

The Government was working on a "more graduated set of interventions" but councils had not asked for leniency, she said.

The standards were changed in 2011 to be more achievable, Adams said.

"Every time we do that it is not a cost-less decision - estimates are a thousand people a year die from air pollution-related problems.

"The good news is having these tough standards has seen significant improvement to air quality."

Green MP Eugenie Sage said ECan commissioners were responsible for Canterbury's pollution problems because they took away the "carrot" and relied too heavily on the "stick".

ECan last month started thermal imaging chimneys of properties with suspected non-compliant burners.

St Albans, Linwood, Edgeware, Woolston, Phillipstown, Merivale, Avondale and Shirley have been completed, with 218 chimneys observed and 45 inspection letters issued.

‘The commissioners have neglected air quality," Sage said. "They axed ECan's successful clean heat scheme in Christchurch."

ECan was unable to provide a response before deadline.

Otago Regional Council is not contemplating thermal imaging despite having a larger issue than Canterbury.

"The reason we have this problem is because people are cold and they are cold because of the climate. People need to stay warm," director of engineering, hazards and science Dr Gavin Palmer said.

The council was reviewing its strategy for air pollution.

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- The Southland Times

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