As cold weather starts to bite, it’s also the time of year when people are most at risk from poor air quality.
Environment Southland’s winter air quality season officially started on 1 May and it’s simple to keep in touch with how our air quality is faring, with live PM10 readings for the Invercargill and Gore airsheds available on www.BreatheEasySouthland.co.nz. For those affected by respiratory conditions, being aware of outdoor conditions may help make decisions about the best times to venture outside.
Environment Southland air quality scientist Owen West said winter is the time when poor air quality is an issue in Southland, particularly in the urban areas of Invercargill and Gore, with home burners identified as the key cause.
“From previous research we know that burning wood and coal for home heating contributes more than 90% of the airborne particulate matter we measure (PM10). It is this pollutant that has an impact on people’s health, especially those who are more susceptible to health complications, such as children, the elderly and others with respiratory conditions.
“Even for those who don’t have their breathing directly affected by air pollution, we know that it can cause general airway irritation and research on the long-term health impacts is very concerning.”
While home heating is the biggest contributor to poor air quality in Southland, it’s also an area where people can make the biggest difference.
“We know that having warm, healthy homes has a huge impact on people’s health and their quality of life, and we want to assist everybody to get the best from their heating.”
For those using wood burners, burning dry wood is the most efficient way to get the best heat, while also reducing the smoke coming from the chimney.
“Burning wet wood is both a waste of money and produces a large volume of smoke. If people take the time to go outside and check how much smoke is coming out of their chimney, it’s a good start in helping them learn how they can optimise their fire to burn more efficiently.
“Keeping the fire burning hot and bright, not banking your fire overnight and ensuring the chimney is swept and the burner maintained will all help reduce the volume of smoke.”
The Regional Air Plan includes rules to help improve air quality. Open fires are now prohibited in the Invercargill and Gore airsheds, and non-compliant burners are being progressively phased out from 2019. Help is available for people within the Invercargill and Gore airsheds through the Clean Air Loans scheme to help them move to cleaner forms of heating.
Environment Southland operates a Good Wood approved suppliers scheme which firewood retailers voluntarily agree to be part of.
Over the winter period from 1 May through until 31 August, outdoor burning is also prohibited within the Invercargill and Gore airsheds. Those outside the airsheds can continue to burn but must still adhere to a number of rules, including not burning a number of prohibited items including baleage wrap and treated timber.
For further information on the Clean Air Loans scheme, Good Wood suppliers and what else you can do to improve air quality, go to www.BreatheEasySouthland.co.nz.