New fo­cus on air pol­lu­tion

Case study will be hard-hit Ti­maru

The Northern Advocate - - Nation - Jamie Mor­ton

One of New Zealand’s worst towns for air pol­lu­tion will be the fo­cus of a new study. While New Zealand’s air is gen­er­ally clean, many cities and towns — in­clud­ing Ti­maru — are blighted by poor qual­ity each win­ter as house­holds turn to wood­burn­ers to keep warm.

The lat­est data showed burn­ing coal and wood made the big­gest con­tri­bu­tion to an­nual lev­els of par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM).

As these small pol­lu­tion-borne par­ti­cles hang in the air, they could be in­haled and in­crease the risk of ill­nesses.

But it wasn’t just house­holds to blame, but fac­tory fumes and smog from streets and high­ways.

Other nas­ties lin­ger­ing in ur­ban cen­tres in­cluded car­bon monox­ide, ni­tro­gen ox­ides and volatile or­ganic com­pounds — which could mix to form a trou­bling green­house gas called tro­po­spheric ozone.

The best way to drive down ur­ban pol­lu­tion, sci­en­tists say, is to first find where it’s com­ing from.

Air qual­ity ex­perts have pre­vi­ously done this through time­con­sum­ing, bot­tom-up ac­count­ing ex­er­cises.

“There are a range of air pol­lu­tion com­puter models that can take a pre­scribed emis­sions map for a city and sim­u­late what the re­sul­tant pol­lu­tion lev­els around the city would be,” ex­plained Dr Greg Bodeker, of Alexan­dra-based firm Bodeker Sci­en­tific.

“While know­ing the level of pol­lu­tion is use­ful, know­ing where that pol­lu­tion came from is far more valu­able since city of­fi­cials can then act to close down, or mit­i­gate, those sources.”

His team aimed to de­velop a new way to cre­ate maps of pol­lu­tion sources.

“The method uses mea­sure­ments of par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the air around a town or city, a state-of-the-art com­puter model that can sim­u­late the dis­tri­bu­tion of air pol­lu­tion for given emis­sions, and a smart math­e­mat­i­cal tech­nique to in­fer emis­sions from mea­sured con­cen­tra­tions.”

Specif­i­cally, they’d use an ap­proach called in­verse mod­el­ling — which ef­fec­tively ran cur­rent models back­wards. This took real-world mea­sure­ments of pol­lu­tion and then in­ferred what the pol­lu­tion map must have looked like, while build­ing in the un­cer­tain­ties on the maps.

The goal of the two-year project, sup­ported with a mil­lion-dol­lar grant from the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment’s En­deav­our Fund, would fig­ure out pre­cisely how to do this.

“Small un­cer­tain­ties in trans­port path­ways of air parcels from their sources to where they are mea­sured can re­sult in large un­cer­tain­ties in the in­ferred pol­lu­tion emis­sions fields,” Bodeker said.

“This is the first time this in­verse mod­el­ling ap­proach has been ap­plied at a city scale and the first time that the goal has been to de­velop an op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity.”

The test­ing ground would be Ti­maru, which recorded some of the high­est win­ter-time lev­els of pol­lu­tion in Aus­trala­sia. Last year, the South Can­ter­bury town had 48 nights where PM lev­els crossed the thresh­old set by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO).

“After test­ing and prov­ing our new tech­nol­ogy through this project, we will ex­port it glob­ally through a newly es­tab­lished com­mer­cial en­tity as a ser­vice to megac­i­ties around the world that are ham­pered by poor air qual­ity,” Bodeker said.

“In this way, in ad­di­tion to tack­ling a do­mes­tic prob­lem of win­ter-time par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion in lo­cal towns and cities, New Zealand in­ge­nu­ity will be ex­ported glob­ally to ad­dress an in­creas­ingly ur­gent global prob­lem.”

Ac­cord­ing to the WHO, air pol­lu­tion causes 1.8 mil­lion deaths from lung dis­ease and can­cer ev­ery year. Un­less the world tack­led cli­mate change, fig­ures would rise by 60,000 glob­ally by 2030 and by 260,000 by 2100.

Other groups work­ing in the project in­cluded Niwa, En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury, Can­ter­bury Univer­sity, Otago Univer­sity, Ger­many’s Karl­sruher In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Wash­ing­ton DC-based com­pany Sigma Space. A pas­sen­ger on board a flight on which a young boy died has de­scribed the heart­break­ing mo­ment the child started to panic half an hour into the jour­ney.

The woman, who asked not to be named, was trav­el­ling on the Samoa Air­ways OL732 flight from Auck­land to Apia on Box­ing Day.

About 30 min­utes after take-off, a young boy seated with his par­ents started pan­ick­ing, she said.

“The boy and his par­ents [ini­tially] did sit some­where in the mid­dle or nearer to the front of the plane.

“But after he started pan­ick­ing, the flight at­ten­dants told the par­ents to bring him to the back of the plane.”

She said as the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lated, staff worked to help the boy.

“The flight at­ten­dants were amaz­ing. They did ev­ery­thing they could,” the pas­sen­ger said.

“The co-pi­lot or the pi­lot came down to see the sit­u­a­tion — I thought by then the plane would land at the near­est air­port. How­ever, it still did not.”

The woman said staff tried in vain to save the boy.

She said she didn’t want to crit­i­cise any­one but she wanted to un­der­stand why the plane did not make an emer­gency land­ing or re­turn to Auck­land — par­tic­u­larly when the child started show­ing signs of dis­tress not long into the flight.

“Why wasn’t the plane turned around? What else could have pre­vented this? What is the pro­to­col in this kind of sit­u­a­tion?”

An air­line spokesman ear­lier said cabin crew treated the boy with oxy­gen. When his con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated, CPR was car­ried out by staff and a de­fib­ril­la­tor was used.

Photo / NZME

Fac­tory fumes and smog from traf­fic­crammed roads add to air pol­lu­tion.

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