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Misguided air quality standard in Christchurch

Misguided air quality standard leads to cold houses, illness and deaths

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s commentary on air quality, released on 5 March, calls the national standard for air quality into serious question.

Fixing the current standard would mean fewer cold houses, and reduce the resulting deaths and illnesses.

The present “PM10 rule” is driving regional councils including Environment Canterbury to demand removal of approved log burners even when they are performing perfectly well. Most will be replaced by heat pumps or simple electric heaters.

The PM10 rule makes little sense, as it regulates the least harmful type of air pollution, short term exposure to coarse air particles. Exposure to much smaller PM2.5 particles over the long term is much more harmful to health.

Christchurch actually satisfies the World Health Organisation standard for long-term exposure to PM10. And it scores “good to very good” on the Australian rule that indicates harm from long-term PM2.5 pollution.

While we all want the cleanest air possible, this must be balanced against the harm to health that results from cold houses. Many New Zealand houses are much colder than World Health Organisation standards.

Unnecessary removal of approved wood burners causes economic and environmental harm as well as health impacts. The tension between clean air and cold houses can be readily quantified with a cost-benefit analysis. There is also a major climate impact because firewood is a renewable resource, and replacing it with electricity means more fossil fuels are burnt.

I intend to call on the Parliamentary Commissioner to follow up her air quality commentary with a review of the cost-benefit analysis now being used to justify removal of approved log burners.

I suggest she recommends a moratorium on the regulated removal of log burners until New Zealand's interpretation of the science of harm from air pollution is clarified, and New Zealand’s air quality standards are modified to reflect the results.


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