Environment Canterbury has launched its ‘Let’s Clear the Air Campaign 2014,’ to address the ongoing problem of winter pollution in Christchurch.

The campaign focuses on smoky chimneys and better burning, with a view to encouraging ‘smoke-free fires.’ It includes creating programmes to help wood burner users to reduce pollution and encourages the development of ultra-low emissions burners and other cleaner technology. The existing Air Plan, which identifies ways the community can assist in reducing pollution, is also being reviewed to tailor local solutions to the problem.

According to Robyn Wallace, chief executive of He Oranga Pounamu (HOP), winter pollution does impact on the health of Ngāi Tahu whānau.

“We know many of our whānau suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases which are exacerbated by this smog and pollution For many, it is a balancing act in being able to afford the best wood burners for the job and purchasing the right firewood at the right time when they are simply trying to survive from week to week,” she says.

“We need better insulated homes but we also need to look at educating people about purchasing and using the right wood.

“We find a lot of whānau on lower incomes are also using un-flued gas heaters. These may be cheaper but unfortunately they generate a lot of moisture, they emit fumes and they’re a big fire risk. Worst of all, they worsen already poor respiratory conditions.”

The “Warm Up For Winter Programme” targets low income households occupied by people with health issues, or with children under 17 years old or people over 65 years old to have the opportunity to make their home warmer, drier and healthier for free. This is also available for rented homes. Robyn says many whānau living in rented accommodation are reluctant to speak to their landlords about the initiative for fear of a rent increase or losing their rental – especially given the current shortage of rental properties in Christchurch.
“They make do because they don’t want to create waves”, says Robyn.

Air pollution has been an issue in Christchurch for many years, especially during the winter months. The main pollutant in urban areas is PM10 – an invisible danger made up of things like sea salt, dust and smoke from cars and industry. More than 80% of the PM10 problem though, comes from houses using solid fuel for their heating particularly open fires and older wood burners. On cold nights, the smoke emitted from these fires does not blow away, creating a blanket of polluted air over the city.

A health guideline for PM10 has been set by the World Health Organisation and a daily reading of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre is considered a high pollution day.

As part of their Let’s Clear the Air Campaign, Environment Canterbury has initiated a smoke-free chimney challenge, which will be supported by in-home training for wood burner users (delivered initially through Community Energy Action [CEA]). Many people think that smoke from a wood burner is normal, but it is really wasted heat. Except for brief periods, you shouldn’t see any smoke coming from your chimney. Compliance checks on older wood burners will also be carried out.

Robyn Wallace says, those experiencing ill health or hardship caused by inefficient, or a lack of suitable winter heating, are being encouraged to ask for assistance for insulation, heating and home energy checks. Environment Canterbury is also encouraging people to visit their website letscleartheair.co.nz and their Facebook page facebook/moreheatnosmoke to read the regular updates on air conditions and lighting good fires.

“It’s important to us that any whānau struggling with cold living environments and the health repercussions that come with them, contact us at HOP as soon as possible so we can talk through the sort of help that is available and the criteria required to access it,” says Robyn.

Righthouse is the insulation installer that HOP is working with; Community Energy Action (CEA) also offers insulation installation assistance for low-income families, a curtain bank and heat pump subsidies. There are a number of options available and I encourage whānau to contact Alice Cunningham at HOP to discuss.”
Call 0800 KAITAHU 0800 524 8248.