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Published: 2012-04-12 00:00:00

Up to 80 homes are expected to have clean heat appliances by the end of this financial year as part of a Waikato Regional Council programme to improve air quality.

Over winter the air in Taupo, Tokoroa and Te Kuiti can carry excessive amounts of the harmful particles, known as PM10.

The particles are small enough to get into people’s lungs, causing serious health problems, and come mainly from wood burnt in older, inefficient woodburners and open fires.

National environmental standards for air quality require that degraded airsheds are improved within set timeframes.

The council is spending $212,000 in 2011/12 as part of its Clean Heat Retrofit programme to provide free appliances to eligible low-income homeowners in Taupo, Tokoroa and Te Kuiti.

From 2012/13, the council is proposing to focus its Clean Heat Retrofit programme on Tokoroa, spending $169,000 each year for up to 10 year years to replace old woodburners and open fires.

Tokoroa currently averages 14 exceedances of the national air quality standards per year. It is required to have 3 or less annual exceedances by 2016 and 1 annual exceedance by 2020.

During this week’s policy and strategy committee meeting, councillor Norm Barker said a heat pump installer he’d spoken to believed some homeowners are modifying woodburners installed as part of the Clean Heat Retrofit programme.

The concern is that modifications increase the amount of smoke being produced and the emission of harmful fine particles.

Although it is believed to happen infrequently, council staff have been asked to investigate whether modifications are being made, and to liaise with woodburner manufacturers.

Staff will also consider revising the contract signed with homeowners when they receive their new appliances to ensure modification does not occur.