Are air quality standards for particulates achievable?

As the 2013 deadline nears for the achievement of the air quality standards set in 2005, the Government has convened a review which seeks to ensure that the standards for particulates are practical and achievable.

The review reflects the fact that 10 cities and towns – including Auckland and Christchurch – are unlikely to achieve compliance with particulate air pollution standards within the 2013 timeframe with potentially serious effects on industry and employment.

A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) has been appointed to report to the Minister for the Environment with recommendations in October this year.  The Group will invite written submissions from key stakeholders, including industry, local government, public health units and relevant central government agencies.

What is particulate air pollution?

Particulates (PM) are very small solid or liquid particles in the air, like dust, smoke or fog.  PM10 particles are less than 10 microns in diameter so can be easily absorbed into the lungs. Most PM10 in New Zealand comes from burning coal and wood for home heating.  In cities, exhaust emissions from vehicles are another significant source of PM10.

Some industries also emit particulates.

What is at stake?

The target ambient air quality standards for particulate air pollution (PM10) are one aspect of a set of National Environmental Standards (NES) in relation to air pollution made under the Resource Management Act.Under the NES as it currently stands, after 31 August 2013 no resource consent to discharge PM10 into an airshed would be granted if:

  • The concentration of PM10 in that airshed breached the ambient air quality standard; or

  • The granting of the resource consent was likely, at any time, to cause the concentration of PM10 in that airshed to breach the ambient air quality standard.

This would result in a blanket ban on the grant of consents to discharge particulates in some areas.

What is subject to review?

The policy objectives behind the current regulations and the actual ambient standards, i.e. the target amount of PM10 levels, are not under review. What is under review is whether the mechanisms in the NES for seeking to achieve those targets (including the 2013 deadline) provide “the maximum net benefit to New Zealanders taking into account the economic, social, and environmental benefits and costs of air pollution”. Potential alternatives specifically referred to in TAG’s terms of reference are:

  • amending the 2013 deadline

  • fines for non-achievement of the ambient standards base on estimated health impacts, and

  • sanctions and Minister-approved action plans for areas where the standards are not met, similar to the approach adopted in the United States.

Technical Advisory Group

Members are:

Phil Barry, Chair - Phil is a Director at Taylor Duignan Barry, an independent corporate finance and economic consultancy.  He has a strong economics background and experience in water allocation and competition policy issues and in national cost benefit analyses. 

Lawrence Yule - Lawrence is President of Local Government New Zealand and has been mayor of Hastings District Council since 2001.  He has a particular concern with air quality standards arising from cost concerns with the proposed Hawkes Bay Regional Council proposed plan changes.

Kevin Mahon - Kevin is Air Quality Policy Manager at the Auckland Regional Council and is well versed in the technical and practical implications of the regulations having more than 27 years experience in industrial air quality consents under the Clean Air Act 1972 and the RMA.

Dr Deborah Read - Deborah is a public health medicine consultant with expertise in public and environmental health and health risk assessment.  She is on the Board of Inquiry for Transpower’s North Island Grid Upgrade proposal.

Kevin Rolfe - Kevin has first-hand experience with the air quality standards through his recent work as Commissioner for a resource consent application in Nelson and was an air quality management specialist to the World Health Organisation in Kuala Lumpur.


Project phases

Estimated dates

TAG to review PM10 regulations, including inviting submissions from stakeholders

July to September

TAG to report to the Minister for the Environment


Report back to the Cabinet on the outcomes of the review

February 2010

What can you do?

This is an important opportunity to feed into policy decisions which will have a real and measurable impact on those industries and activities which produce particulates.  TAG’s terms of reference indicate that the Government is alive to the issues and is prepared to amend the regime accordingly.If you are in an industry or in an agency for which this is an issue, now is the time to put your hand up as someone who wants to be consulted. 

For further information, please contact the lawyers featured.

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