Air is one of the basic elements supporting life on earth. The quality of our air directly impacts the quality of our lives, our health and wellbeing, and the environment.
Environment Southland monitors air quality across the region to compare it against the health-based national air quality standards and guidelines. Poor air quality can be particularly harmful to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma.
Our air quality is degraded when pollutants from human activities are released into the air. These pollutants may be from domestic fires, industrial activities, motor vehicles, farming activities and outdoor burning. In our urban areas during the wintertime, domestic fires are the main cause of poor air quality.
Despite being relatively windy, Southland experiences periods of high pressure during the winter months. These high pressure systems often bring clear skies and cool nights that allow temperature inversions to develop. Temperature inversions occur a warmer layer of air overlies a cooler layer near the earth's surface. The result is that the warmer layer traps pollutants near the surface and causes the concentrations to increase.
The primary pollutant of concern in Southland is particulate matter smaller than 10 microns in diameter (PM10). Increase concentrations of PM10 are associated with numerous health problems. These problems range from minor irritation of the eyes and nose, to more severe effects when inhaled such as respiratory diseases and asthma attacks. Children and the elderly tend to be the most susceptible. Further information on particles in the atmosphere can be found on the Ministry for the Environment's website.
What we are doing
Environment Southland recently reviewed part of its Regional Air Quality Plan for Southland to develop a set of measures to help reduce the amount of pollutants being released into the air. This review was the first stage and dealt with domestic heating, outdoor burning, agrichemicals, fertilisers and fire training. The second stage of the review will address the remaining sections of the plan including industrial and trade discharges and odour.
We are taking an education first approach, ensuring that the community is aware of the effect that certain activities have on air quality. The publication of Southland's first State of the Environment Report on Air in 2014 is one example of the education activities we are undertaking. Read the report, Southland's Air/Nga Hau o Murihiku.
Clean Air Loans Invercargill
Environment Southland has also joined with Invercargill City Council to offer low interest loans to homeowners within the Invercargill airshed to upgrade to approved heating, including approved burners or heat pumps. Each council has allocated $500,000 each per year for the next three years. The scheme will be administered by the Southland Warm Homes Trust and further information can be obtained by phoning 0800 WARMSOUTH (0800 927 676), or by visiting Awarua Synergy's website.
What you can do
There are a number of things you can do at home to help keep the air clean. Simple things that don't cost you any money include:
- burning dry firewood (which is cleaner burning than coal)
- not damping down your fire
- not burning household rubbish
- making sure your home is adequately insulated
For further information, please check out our Warm Up Wisely brochure.