Air pollution during an icy May has resulted in a ban on new open fireplaces in Tokoroa.
The town's air breached national environmental standards several times last month and as a result national regulations prohibiting the use of new open fireplaces will apply from May next year.
There were three instances from May 20 to May 23 in which Tokoroa exceeded its allowable levels of airborne particles, known as PM10.
A PM10 particle is less than 10 microns in diameter, or one-fifth of the diameter of human hair. The invisible airborne particles can lodge in people's lungs and cause serious health problems.
It is released into the air from burning solid fuels such as wood for home heating or via vehicle exhaust emissions in some cities.
Revisions to the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality state that from September 1 last year when the PM10 standard is breached in pollution testing, a ban on the use of new solid-fuel burning open fires will apply from a year later.
For Tokoroa, the first breach of the PM10 standard since then was in May.
People who already have open fireplaces installed before that date will be unaffected and can still use them. But the ban applies only to houses and other domestic buildings, not to commercial buildings.
Waikato Regional Council policy adviser Amanda Banks said the rule is intended to prevent new pollution sources, such as open fireplaces, in areas that already exceed the standards.
"Open fires also aren't very effective at keeping people warm and if you heat your home with one, you could be eligible for a free heating upgrade."
The regional council's Waikato Clean Heat Retrofit Programme is available for Tokoroa homeowners who have a community services card, and an adequately insulated home heated by a fireplace or an older style woodburner. Funding is still available and homeowners who think they qualify should contact Moetu Togia on 078850776 by Friday.
The programme offers free clean heat appliances to replace less efficient, more polluting forms of heating.
South Waikato District Council also offers schemes to help people change to clean heat appliances.
South Waikato District Council community development manager Amanda Hema said their Warm Homes Clean Air programme replaces old heating appliances with new energy-efficient ones and is fully funded.
It also manages the Heat Swap Scheme that is open to everyone in the district.
People can apply to have a new heating appliance installed, the council will pay for the project and the ratepayer pays the council back at an extremely low rate of interest over 10 years.
She said there are conditions with both schemes so homeowners should contact the council to see if they are eligible.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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