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ECan to get tough on smoky chimneys

If your chimney pumps smoke into the air this winter you’ll be slapped with a $750 fine.

Environment Canterbury is clamping down on air pollution from domestic fires and smoking chimneys are its number one target, with repeat offenders likely to be fined. And those offenders could be property owners with new compliant logburners or one of the decreasing number of Ashburtonians who have yet to replace their out-of- date fires, says ECan director for air, Katherine Trought.

The proposed Canterbury Air Regional Plan requires better management of smoke emissions through new rules that allow ECan to issue abatement notices to offenders and fine anyone continuing to flout emission rules, she said.

After 15 minutes of lighting or stoking your fire, smoke should no longer be visible.

Last year’s smoking chimney and better burning campaign was successful in creating awareness, but with the 2016 national deadline of no more than three high pollution nights each year looming, compliance had to be stepped up, Ms Trought said.

Ashburton’s first high pollution night this winter (a daily average concentration of PM 10 over 50) was on May 29, at 60. Last year nine high pollution nights were recorded, up from four in 2013.

Fines would be a last resort; an educative approach would be taken first, she said.

ECan staff will be on the ground in Ashburton spotting smoking chimneys and using heat detectors to identify non-compliant logburners still in use. An information brochure will be left in the letterbox of an offender and the property would be monitored. If there are further breaches a warning letter will be sent and the property owner will be contacted by ECan staff.

“By the time it gets to an abatement notice, the homeowner will have had at least three contacts with us so it shouldn’t come as a surprise,” Ms Trought said.

ECan commissioner David Bedford said that the abatement and fine regime was a first in the drive to achieve clean air standards.

“Over the past few years we’ve been working closely with industry, wood merchants and the community on how to address emissions from home heating. We’ve never infringed a domestic wood-burner owner for producing smoke, but now, even if you have a complying woodburner, you still have to manage it well,” he said.

Logburners older than 15 years must be replaced with new compliant burners and from 2019 all replacements will have to be with low-emission burners which are just coming on to the market in New Zealand.

For people who would struggle financially to replace their woodfire, assistance could be arranged through Community Energy Action, Mr Bedford said.

“Since our winter assistance programmes started we have helped more than 600 people (across Canterbury) in a range of ways including granting short-term extensions to keep using their woodburner, with free home energy checks and with financial support in some cases.”

The message, however, was very clear: “We’ve got past the point where people can just ignore this, they have to be seen to be making an effort.”

– Sue Newman, via Ashburton Guardian