Where there’s smoke, there’s spot­ters

The Timaru Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

matthew.lit­tle­wood@stuff.co.nz En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury’s smoke spot­ters just want peo­ple to change the way they’re heat­ing their homes.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Win­ter has ar­rived, the fires get sparked up, and Ti­maru records some of the worst air pol­lu­tion read­ings in the coun­try.

So what can be done about it? Well, peo­ple can change the way they heat their homes. But that’s eas­ier said than done.

So En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury, which is tasked with the role of mon­i­tor­ing and im­prov­ing the re­gion’s air pol­lu­tion, has de­cided to take it to ground level. In short, they’re check­ing chim­neys.

Thurs­day was an op­por­tu­nity to ac­com­pany ECan’s Ti­maru op­er­a­tions man­ager Ju­dith Ear­lGoulet and air qual­ity of­fi­cer Mark Bourassa on a smoke spot­ting op­er­a­tion in Ti­maru. It’s all about ed­u­ca­tion, they say. ‘‘We want peo­ple to change their be­hav­iours,’’ Earl-Goulet says.

In or­der to do that they fol­low a sim­ple sci­en­tific pro­ce­dure. Armed with an LED torch and a spe­cial ther­mal imag­ing cam­era, they drive Ti­maru’s streets shin­ing a light on chim­neys.

If they spot one that is smok­ing ex­ces­sively, they mon­i­tor it for 15 min­utes. If it’s still smok­ing af­ter that length of time, they place a flyer in the let­ter­box. The flyer lists ways to start a fire.

It also has con­tact de­tails for ECan’s ‘‘bet­ter burn­ing’’ ad­vis­ers. On re­quest, these ad­vis­ers can pro­vide a demon­stra­tion of how to heat your home bet­ter.

‘‘It could be all sorts of things they’re not do­ing right. Some­times it’s the wrong kind of wood be­ing used, some­times it’s an older burner, some­times it’s the way they’ve been burn­ing their wood,’’ Earl-Goulet says.

Bourassa says it of­ten takes a while for the smoke to dis­si­pate. Ju­dith Earl-Goulet

‘‘You can go from a big bil­low­ing cloud to a fine lit­tle wisp,’’ he says.

It takes less than five min­utes to spot the first con­sis­tently smoky chim­ney. Bourassa had hoped the smoke would clear in time from the Gib­son St prop­erty but af­ter 15 min­utes it had not.

‘‘They prob­a­bly need a mi­nor tweak,’’ Bourassa says.

There is more suc­cess with an­other Gib­son St prop­erty, which starts out smok­ing, but quickly dies down. Bourassa mea­sures the tem­per­a­ture of the heat com­ing through the flume. It’s in ex­cess of 40 de­grees.

‘‘Great! A good hot fire,’’ he says, ap­prov­ingly.

But do they think this mon­i­tor­ing will ac­tu­ally im­prove peo­ple’s be­hav­iours, or will it sim­ply scare them into not burn­ing at all?

They point out that dur­ing the last win­ter mon­i­tor­ing sea­son they left fly­ers with more than 280 prop­er­ties in Ti­maru.

When they re­vis­ited them later in the win­ter, only 43 needed to be re­minded again.

That, they say, sug­gests the ‘‘ed­uca­tive’’ ap­proach is work­ing.

How­ever, there has been some op­po­si­tion from the Ti­maru pub­lic.

The South Can­ter­bury Re­gional Air Plan (Scrap) li­ai­son com­mit­tee, set up in re­sponse to last year’s ker­fuf­fles over changes to air qual­ity rules in the re­gion, thinks the smoke spot­ters should be scrapped.

‘‘ECan un­for­tu­nately ig­nore Ti­maru’s unique topo­graph­i­cal fea­tures, cold win­ter tem­per­a­tures, avail­abil­ity of dry wood, need for warm dry homes, higher num­ber of age­ing res­i­dents but maybe have reg­u­lated for a utopian ex­is­tence,’’ a re­cent Scrap let­ter said.

Earl-Goulet con­cedes that Ti­maru’s topo­graph­i­cal fea­tures mean that the smog from fires can get caught in a thick at­mo­spheric layer. On wet and windy nights, the teams don’t tend to go out on pa­trol; not just for their own com­fort, but be­cause there will be less smoke trapped in the air. So, why are they do­ing this? Well, it’s about con­nect­ing peo­ple, and mov­ing to­wards a less smoky Ti­maru.

‘‘We don’t want peo­ple to be afraid of burn­ing. We want them to burn bet­ter and keep warmer.

‘‘If peo­ple make con­tact, and talk to us, then our staff can un­der­stand what is re­quired to im­prove home heat­ing,’’ says Earl-Goulet.

‘‘When we’ve had in­ter­ac­tions, peo­ple soon un­der­stand what we’re about.’’

DOUG FIELD/STUFF

En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury’s Ju­dith Earl-Goulet checks a Ti­maru chim­ney for tell-tale puffs of pol­lu­tion.

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