Saturday, March 29, 2014
Mike Butler: Here come the woodburner police
A plane equipped with a thermal tracking camera will patrol the skies over Hawke’s Bay during the chilly season when domestic fires may be lit, homing in on chimneys with strong heat images. This will be matched against a record of every compliant fire that has been installed since 2005 in Napier and Hastings, as well as regional council records of every loan or grant that has been given since the programme started in 2009.
Any homeowner thus found out will be pinged with an abatement notice. Infringement of an abatement notice will attract a $300 fine.
The purpose of this latest expansion of our police state is to get the region to comply with an arbitrary standard to deal with an alleged buildup of “anthropogenic” particles of less than 10 micrometres in diameter, referred to as PM10. These small particles are about one fifth the thickness of a human hair.
The National Environmental Standards for Air Quality set the arbitrary limit of 50 micrograms of PM10 per cubic metre of air over a 24-hour period. One microgram is 0.000001 gram or 1 gram is 1000000 micrograms. Fifty micrograms is 0.00005 of a gram.
Hastings has been particularly naughty because it has breached this arbitrary standard of laughingly miniscule amounts of tiny particles that you could not even see with the naked eye a total of 16 times last year, and Napier breached it five times.
The naughtiness of all this arbitrary standard breaching takes place of still nights, when there is no wind to blow away these tiny amounts of nearly invisible substance that, according to regional council boffins, “can contribute to respiratory diseases and also has been associated with cardiovascular problems and those at most risk are the elderly, young children, and those with existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”
Missing was the usual heart-strings claim about fighting child poverty.
To solve this imaginary problem, all the good people of Napier and Hastings who want to carry on being naughty by burning fires to stay warm in the winter have to replace existing burners or fill open fireplaces with a compliant burner with prices that start at around $2000, a flue kit costing $600, installation costing another $1000, and a consent costing $350.
Admittedly, the regional council has offered a cash back of $608 for every decommissioned non-compliant fire, along with low-interest loans to help pay for the madness.
So you may well imagine that there are queues of people lined up waiting for a consent who cannot light a fire until the local councils deal with the woodburner consent bottleneck. If they dare to light up they will be pinged with an abatement notice of face a $300 fine.
On top of all this, the Hastings District Council has used this as an opportunity to replenish its files with information it has either lost or failed to collect by requiring the certified installers to provide a scale floor plan with measurements of the entire dwelling that the new woodburners are being installed in.
You may say that all this may costly and irritating but it is all for the common good. But here’s the thing. It turns out that there is no link between PM10 and all the dreadful diseases that the regional council is saving us from.
In the 2007 Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand report it was assumed that PM10 from home ﬁres had the same toxicity as PM10 from trafﬁc. However, in their earlier 2005 report it was found that summer time PM10, which comes largely from trafﬁc, was 5 to 10 times as toxic as winter time PM10, 80% of which comes from home ﬁres. The algebra leads to the conclusion that PM10 from home ﬁres is relatively harmless. (1)
I repeat, PM10 from home fires is relatively harmless and look what the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the Christchurch regional council and other councils are forcing us to do for probably no health benefit whatsoever.
This situation became tragic-comic in Christchurch where families whose homes were being demolished because of the earthquake were not allowed to install replacement wood burners in their new homes – because of the excessively strict air quality standards. And for the first winter after the 2011 earthquake, families lacking electricity and a woodburner could not turn on the heat pump so just put on layers of clothing and shivered through the night.
The commissioning of a special force of woodburner police in Hawke’s Bay, with a mission to track down naughty homeowners using non-compliant burners or, worse, open fires, to solve a non-existent health problem shows that not only are we are living in a national socialist state, we are being force-fed policies that are barmy.
1. Palmer P. 2002 Particulate air pollution and hospital admissions: consequent or subsequent. Aust N Z J Public Health 26;279-280. http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/124-1330/4565/content.pdf
at 4:42 PM