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Mount Maunganui industrial air quality

We know the Whareroa and Mount Maunganui community are concerned about air pollution from the nearby industrial area. That is why we have committed to spending $500,000 a year to accurately monitor air quality in the industrial area where pollution is most concentrated.  

We know from our monitoring that air quality in the Mount Maunganui area is reasonable and appears to be improving with less exceedances of the national limits being recorded for fine dust. At the same time, we know that for many who live, work or play in this area, odour can be a significant issue and negatively impact mental health. 

As a Regional Council, it’s our role to monitor air quality and manage air pollution. The key challenge to managing air pollution in this area is the proximity of industrial zoned land to residential zoned land, primarily the Whareroa Marae and Mount Maunganui residential areas. Local councils are responsible for land zoning, not regional councils, but this complex situation has been generations in the making, with many stakeholders involved.

Air pollution

Air pollution is a complex mix of tiny particles and gases that can be produced naturally or from human activity. The main sources of air pollution in New Zealand are wood and coal fires (for home heating), motor vehicles, industrial emissions, open burning and natural sources such as sea salt, sand, pollen and soil.

We contract an independent provider to operate 11 air monitors in the industrial area where pollution is most concentrated. These monitors are running 24/7 and check for a range of pollutants like fine dust, hydrogen sulfide and sulphur dioxide. You can access this data online at anytime.

To assess air quality, we measure the concentration of specific air pollutants that have known health impacts, and compare these to:

Since we expanded our network of monitors from 4 to 11 in November 2018, we have detected exceedances of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality for the following pollutants.

  PM10 (allowed 1 exceedance per year) S02 (allowed 9 x 350 µg/m3 exceedance per year)
Year 1 (2018/19) 7 3
Year 2 (2019/20) 19 -
Year 3 (2020/21) 4 -
Year 4 (2021/22) 10 -
Year 5 (2022/23) 3 -
Year 6 (2023/24 up to 14 February 2024) 1 -

Any exceedance of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality is unacceptable, and all incidences are investigated. The nature of an investigation will depend on the pollutant, circumstances, and relevant national and regional rules. But it will likely include reviewing monitoring data, camera footage, weather conditions and meeting with potential polluters. 

These extensive data sets enabled us to ask the Ministry for the Environment to designate the Mount Maunganui industrial area as a separate airshed. This tool is specific to fine dust and allows us to introduce specific rules to help address and manage the problem.

This also means a line is drawn in the sand and new resource consent applications for activities wanting to discharge fine dust as part of their activity must be declined. Because more than one exceedance was recorded for fine dust in the 12 months prior to our request being processed, the Mount Airshed was classified as ‘polluted’ when it was established on 28 November 2019.

Our monitoring shows that the dust that settles in this area, and basically all urban areas, is a mix of both natural and man-made sources. Natural sources include sea spray and soil particles. Man-made sources are more varied and include industrial activities like fertiliser or concrete manufacturers and dry bulk material distributors such as those who distribute palm kernel. We also pick up particles from vehicles such as from the exhaust, tyre and brake wear, and emissions from shipping or rail.

Through our Regional Air Plan and the resource consent process we can put controls in place around some of these activities but many, like vehicle or shipping emissions, and some Port based activities like the movement and loading of logs, we cannot.

One of the dustier activities that takes place in the Mount industrial area is the transportation and distribution of dry stock food - usually palm kernel, grains and tapioca. These products arrive by ship, are unloaded into trucks, and transported to  distribution warehouses before being trucked around the North Island.

One of New Zealand’s largest distribution warehouses is located on De Havilland Way, adjacent to hangers, workplaces and a small number of provate residences. People who work and live in this area are highly concerned about the health effects from the fine dust becoming air borne.  We have been working with this community and the distributors since 2014 to monitor the problem, find solutions and strengthen rules.  

Addressing air quality issues at a location like De Havilland Way, where residential and industrial buildings co-exist on a single title, is complex. Current rules are focused on addressing issues ‘beyond the boundary’, however we are looking to introduce new air management rules which would mean a consent is required for large scale handling of bulk solid materials that can create dust nuisance.

Regional Council is just one part of the solution, but dust is a big focus for the team who work in this space and they have several tools to help them address this.

  • We have a Regional Air Plan to set rules that are consistent with national requirements. We’re about to update this plan through Plan Change 18. Targeted rules will be proposed which aim to better control dust in this area. More information will be provided on this process when the Government have confirmed the National Environment Standards for Air Quality review.
  • In many cases, people need a resource consent to discharge things like dust and it’s through these consents that we can set specific conditions requiring dust to be reduced. When consents expire, and applicants reapply, we can take a fresh look at the activity and factor in the best available information at the time. With technology constantly improving, the council having more access to quality data and the Mount industrial area now a designated polluted airshed, this can mean significant improvements are made.
  • We carry out enforcement action when people break the rules or don’t comply with their consent conditions. This includes imposing fines and undertaking prosecutions.

A lot of good things are happening in the Mount industrial area, with many business sealing exposed surfaces, dust fences being installed and some upgrading their plants as technology improves. We are seeing the effect of this in our monitoring with less exceedances being recorded. However, some of this good work is being partially offset by an increase in all activity throughout the entire mount industrial zone.

Odour is a big issue for this area. Pet food, bitumen, and ‘rotten egg’ (hydrogen sulphide) are the main smells we get notified about.

The rules set by the Council state, if you create an odour as part of your activity, it cannot be ‘offensive or objectionable’ beyond the property boundary. Odour detecting technology is limited and most local authorities will rely upon well-trained response staff to physically sense and assess these odours.

Verifying odours is an immensely challenging task as they often disperse quickly depending on the strength and direction of the wind. For us to carry out a prosecution on behalf of ratepayers we require considerable evidence, so please continue to let us know if you detect an unpleasant odour.

If the public are concerned about odours from specific industrial sites, as well as contacting the Regional Council Pollution Hotline on 0800 884 883, a direct approach to the business will help let them know about the impact they are having on the wider Mount Maunganui community.

Whareroa Marae and the adjoining community is situated on the shore of Tauranga Harbour neighbouring the Mount industrial area. The Whareroa Marae is a traditional pa site and key marae for Ngai Tukairangi and Ngāti Kuku hapū of the Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi. Whareroa Pā has been present for around 150 years, making it one of the oldest kainga in the area.

There is only a narrow buffer zone between industry and the marae, residential area and the community who live there. The people who live here are constantly exposed to the air and visual pollution that comes with these activities. This community are concerned about the growth and expansion of this industrial area, the effects on their people and the wider community and the impact it has on their cultural practices.

We installed an air monitor onsite at the Whareroa marae in 2015 to monitor for fine dust particulate matter, hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. The last sulphur dioxide exceedance at this monitor was in 2016, and the last fine dust exceedance was in 2018.

At the request of Whareroa Marae, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Tauranga City Council have funded independent consultants to investigate a managed retreat by industry. This is now sitting with Whareroa Marae.

Methyl bromide is a fumigant used at Port of Tauranga (the Port) primarily to treat logs before export in order to meet biosecurity requirements of the country receiving the shipment, principally China and India. It is also used to treat some imported products to ensure that no pests or diseases are brought into New Zealand.

Due to increasing use of methyl bromide and the risks to human health and the environment, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) have reviewed how this fumigant is used in New Zealand. The updated rules on its use were released in August 2021. The main changes are:

For ship hold fumigation:

  • From 1 January 2022, a 900m buffer zone will apply. This means that from 1 January 2022 ship hold fumigation of methyl bromide at the Port will not be able to comply with the new rules.
  • From 1 January 2023 this practice will be banned.

For log fumigation:

  • From 1 January 2022 buffer distances will relate to methyl bromide recapture requirements. Greater recapture rates will require a reduced buffer distance as less chemical is released into the atmosphere.

Under these new rules the traditional recapture system currently used at the Port would require a buffer distance so large that it may make log fumigation at the Port impractical. Urgent attention is now being given to using carbon based recapture, a system able to achieve the required higher rates of recapture, to facilitate the on-going fumigation of logs at the Port.

Ethanedinitrile (EDN)

EDN has been identified as a possible ‘drop-in’ substitute for methyl bromide however at this stage it is still not approved as a fumigant in NZ. The EPA are currently assessing the application and will decide on whether or not to approve its use, and the controls that should apply. Many consider it a preferable fumigant as it does not harm the ozone layer and requires a reduced buffer distance.

Given the constraints imposed on methyl bromide fumigation, and the public opposition to fumigation at the Port, it is expected that there will be more logs treated with non-chemical alternatives such as de-barking. However not all markets (e.g. India) accept this as an acceptable alternative to fumigation so there is still likely to be a requirement for chemical log fumigation for some time to come. 

More information on Methyl Bromide use in New Zealand can be found on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.