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Better home practices for better air quality

Better home practices for better air quality this winter

10 May 2006

Not burning wet firewood and keeping chimneys clean will go a long way to keeping Auckland’s air cleaner and achieving air quality targets, says the Auckland Regional Council.

“Be more efficient and environmentally friendly with home heating and you’ll be helping your region,” says Dianne Glenn, Environmental Management Committee Chair.

“A home fire is typically not hot enough to completely burn its fuel, meaning that leftover particulate matter is carried into the air. Wet wood compounds the problem, with a lower temperature fire that has more smoke,” she says.

Indoor domestic fires are the largest source of fine particulate matter (PM10) in the air during winter. After motor vehicle emissions, they are generally the second largest contributor to all air pollution in the region.

Cr Glenn says as winter approaches it’s timely to encourage Aucklanders to take personal action to minimise the impact of indoor domestic fires by cleaning their chimneys and burning dry, seasoned wood.

Smoke from domestic fires also contains benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - compounds that can adhere to fine particulate matter left over from burning wood. When inhaled, some of these compounds are known to be cancer-causing with prolonged exposure.

Cr Glenn says one third of all houses in the Auckland metropolitan area and one half of all rural homes in the Auckland region have indoor domestic fires.

“With the region’s known air pollution issues it is important to clarify that after 1 September 2005 all new woodburners installed on properties of less than two hectares must comply with the New Zealand standards for air emission,” she says.

ARC monitoring records show that the region’s air quality exceeded acceptable health levels 41 times in 2005. These readings were taken from 6 of the 12 metropolitan monitoring stations.

As a whole, the region’s air quality within the Metropolitan Urban Limits - referred to as the region’s MUL airshed - exceeded the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (AQNES) 22 times in 2005, a pattern repeated annually since monitoring began in 1999.

Motor vehicle emissions and domestic fires are the main contributors to air pollution in the region.

On Monday, the ARC’s Environmental Management committee moved to adopt 95g/m3 (micro grams per cubic metre) as the start point concentration for the ARC’s ‘straight line path’ – a plan to achieve the AQNES PM10 standard of 50µg/m3 within the Auckland Metropolitan Urban Limits by 2013.

In the next few months, the ARC will be developing a detailed air quality management strategy looking at options to help Auckland meet the regional air quality targets as well as AQNES. This will involve reviewing existing policies for managing domestic fires in the Regional Air, Land, and Water Plan and advocating for accelerated legislation from central government to deal with vehicle emissions.

Air pollution is estimated to cause nearly 400 premature deaths in the Auckland region with an estimated health-effects cost of $1.3 billion, every year.


Advice for Householders
- Home fires help reduce the amount of heating required - ensure your home is well insulated
- Change your open fire to a solid fuel burner, or natural gas. Consider electric or solar energy alternatives
- Do not burn anything other than dry seasoned wood, kindling and paper in your home fire
- The sound test: strike two pieces of wood together - dry wood will make a loud ‘crack’ whereas wet wood will make a dull thud.
- Make sure your chimney is cleaned every year, is well insulated and high enough to let smoke and gases disperse.

For more information visit the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority at www.eeca.govt.nz or www.arc.govt.nz/arc/environment/air

For a list of approved woodburners that comply with the AQNES design standard, visit www.mfe.govt.nz/laws/standards/woodburners/index.html

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