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Published: 2013-07-19 00:00:00

A fresh breach of national air pollution standards in Taupo has triggered a new restriction on the future use of open fireplaces in the home and an extension of the town’s classification as a “polluted airshed”.

The practical outcome of these measures required under the Ministry for the Environment’s National Environmental Standards (NES) for Air Quality is:

  • to ban the use of any new open fireplaces installed inside domestic dwellings in the Taupo urban area on or after 27 June next year
  • to extend the time for which special restrictions apply on industrial emissions to the air.

While this latest breach of the standards is not necessarily indicative of a worsening trend in air quality, it will be important to keep a lid on PM10 levels in the air as they can cause a variety of health problems, Waikato Regional Council said.

The restrictions are aimed at preventing any increase in the amount of PM10 particles being emitted into Taupo’s air. PM10 is made up of particles 10 microns in diameter or less. The main source of PM10 in Taupo, as in other Waikato towns where it is a problem, is solid fuel burning in domestic heating fires.

Waikato Regional Council monitoring at its Gillies Avenue site has shown the PM10 standard was exceeded in Taupo twice within a 12 month period on 18 July 2012 and 26 June 2013. A breach of the NES occurs when more than one exceedance occurs within a 12 month period, said regional council scientist Jonathan Caldwell.

As a result of this breach, any solid-fuel burning, open fireplace installed within a home on or after 27 June 2014 will not be able to be used for burning solid fuels such as coal and wood.

People will still be able to use enclosed fireplaces, such as woodburners, installed prior to and after 27 June 2014. They could also keep using existing open fireplaces, Dr Caldwell said. However, he said the use of open fireplaces is a very inefficient method of home heating.

The breach also extends the period during which industrial restrictions apply to any business or industry which wants to introduce a new and large discharge of PM10 to air or an existing industry wanting to increase its consented PM10 discharges to air within Taupo. To obtain consent for an increase they will be required to get someone else to reduce their discharge by the same amount.

“The new restrictions are unfortunate as Taupo’s air quality has been improving as a result of various emission reducing activities,” Dr Caldwell said.

“These activities have included gradual replacement of older home heating appliances with new woodburners or clean heating options such as gas appliances and heat pumps, replacement of the coal-fired boilers with geothermal energy at the Taupo Hospital, and possibly a reduction in vehicle emissions as a result of diversion of traffic via the Eastern Taupo Arterial route.

“There had only been one exceedance a year for the past three years. Unfortunately a fresh exceedance last month has triggered the new open fireplace ban in homes and extended industrial restrictions.

“Before that, we had hoped to lift Taupo’s status as a polluted airshed by August next year. Now, to get that status lifted, Taupo will need to have no more than one exceedance per 12 month period for another five years,” Dr Caldwell said.

“A particularly cold winter could easily reverse the improving trend we have seen in recent years. Burning dry wood, using a Ministry for the Environment authorised woodburner and not dampening down fires will help reduce smoke.”

While the industrial restrictions can be lifted once Taupo has five years in a row of no more than one exceedance per 12 month period, the ban on using new open fireplaces installed in a home after June next year would remain indefinitely, Dr Caldwell added.