‘Exposure meters’ for quarry dust residents
Yaldhurst residents complaining of health issues caused by quarry dust will be asked to wear personal meters so Environment Canterbury (ECan) can ‘‘understand their exposure’’.
Residents of Old West Coast Rd who live near an expanding quarry have been concerned about air pollution for several years. Recent tests showed the dust contained 30 per cent silica, which could cause lung cancer and silicosis over a long period.
Yesterday, microbiologist Dr Kelvin Duncan, a former University of Canterbury dean working for the residents pro-bono, told ECan councillors some residents were displaying symptoms consistent with early-stage ‘‘progressive and incurable’’ silicosis.
‘‘They experience wheezing and coughing, bleeding from the nose, eye irritation, shortness of breath, lung inflammation, dental problems, problematic blood chemistry and general weakness all of which are consistent with early-stage silicosis.’’
ECan service delivery senior manager Brett Aldridge said there was not as much dust around the area at this time of year, yet some residents were still complaining of symptoms.
‘‘We’ve asked a handful of residents to be involved in some personal exposure monitoring to understand their exposure.
‘‘The participating residents will wear a personal exposure meter for eight hours, while they go about their day.
‘‘As well as some residents along Old West Coast Rd, we’re going to take some comparative readings from residents along Conservators Rd,’’ Aldridge said.
The meters were small and could be worn on the hip. ECan hoped to complete monitoring in the next couple of weeks.
Duncan said the residents wanted some form of mitigation to the dust problem, adding the most dangerous dust could not be picked up by observers near the quarry.
‘‘The dangerous material is invisible and it travels far further.
‘‘In windless conditions it can hang as a cloud over the residents and the quarry itself, so it needs probably a complete review of how the quarries are to be managed.’’
Work sites overseas, Duncan said, were setback from quarry boundaries.
‘‘The working face has to be a certain setback from the boundary of the quarry – sometimes 250 metres, more usually 500m and in some countries, like India and Pakistan, 1.5 kilometres.
‘‘That’s to make sure that no dust will go into public areas or residents’ houses.’’
In March, Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey confirmed some residents had symptoms consistent with silica exposure.
Yaldhurst resident Anna Youngman said: ‘‘We’re not moaning because we don’t like quarries. Business is business. But when your life’s on the line, you’ll speak.’’
On Thursday, Duncan said there was only one way to treat silicosis: ’’That is to stop the source, you cannot give them a pill.’’
Traditionally regulations, especially in New Zealand, were based on worker protection, but internationally it was recognised residents near quarries were also at risk of developing silicosis, he said.
Yaldhurst Rural Residents Association chairwoman Sara Harnett Kikstra believed the issues in Yaldhurst were created by a permissive set of rules and a lack of enforcement.
‘‘It is concerning that ECan continues to grant dust to air discharge consents for new quarries despite new evidence of the adverse affects of silica.’’
Aldridge previously said ECan had told all quarry operators no visible dust beyond the boundary was acceptable.
‘‘Currently, a resource management officer, who is based in the area, makes regular checks and responds to complaints,’’ he said.
ECan, Christchurch City Council and the Canterbury District Health Board were working on an air quality monitoring programme in response to concerns about the health effects of dust in the Yaldhurst area.
‘‘The intent of the monitoring programme is to gather sufficient data that the medical officer of health can use to determine if levels of dust and respirable crystalline silica from quarrying activities poses a long-term health risk to residents,’’ Aldridge said.
It was hoped the programme would start within a month.