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Australia proposes new ambient air quality standards

The (Australian) National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) has proposed new ambient air quality standards in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality Measure (AAQ NEPM) for the following gases:

  • ozone (O3)
  • nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The following table compares the new proposed standards with the 2005 World Health Organisation (WHO) global ambient air quality guidelines and New Zealand’s national environmental standards for air quality.

An impact statement, published by the NEPC, found there are health effects arising from exposure to O3, NO2 and SO2 in Australian cities at their current concentrations. The associated combined health costs due to mortality and hospitalisation over the period 2010–2014 were of the order of $562 million to $2,405 million, depending on the choice of concentration response functions (CRFs). However, when considering the full cost benefit anlaysis, the application of the different CRF groups did not change the overall outcome, which was a negative net present value (NPV) to society.

The statement further noted that with the predicted population growth in Australian cities and regional areas, the number of people that are exposed to air pollution will also increase, leading to an increased health burden.

Of interest, a modelled abatement package scenario was shown to not be cost-effective in achieving reductions in pollutant levels. The impact statement recommended consideration be given to alternative abatements that may achieve a larger impact across whole populations such as those associated with motor vehicles and transport options.

The impact statement is available here.

[Source: CASANZ]


ISEE taking on the US EPA

The President of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) has written to the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticising the EPA’s proposal (84 Fed. Reg. 2670, Feb. 7, 2019) to reverse a prior well-founded finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate the emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

Excerpt from letter follows:

The original finding by the US EPA was promulgated to protect the public from health damaging pollution emissions from electric generating power plants, and was the basis for the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). The EPA’s newly proposed approach is based primarily on a narrowing of the economic calculation of monetised benefits resulting from mercury exposure reduction measures, and now inappropriately ignores the multiple ancillary human health co-benefits that the current regulatory approach includes, making the regulation of Hg appear less justified than it is. Indeed, the proposed assessment would completely, and inappropriately, ignore the substantial monetised human health benefits to the US public that would result from reductions in non-target pollutants that would also occur as a result of the Hg control measures, such as co-reductions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution.

As scientists who have studied the human health effects of PM2.5 and other air pollutants over the past few decades, we can state with scientifically-based certainty that the human health benefits that are now being ignored by the US EPA are large and significant to the public health.

…Thus, the human health co-benefits from the co-reduction of PM2.5 air pollution that will be achieved by going forward with the MATS rule (and other future EPA air quality rules) must not be ignored. Moreover, if the benefits analysis were to be properly conducted to include those public health co-benefits, it would be clear that the MATS rule should be left in place as originally proposed by the US EPA.

On behalf of the ISEE, we strongly urge that the US EPA withdraw this harmful proposal, and instead retain its prior sound finding that it is both appropriate and necessary to regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions from electric generating units under Section 112(n)(1) of the Clean Air Act.

Full letter here .

[Source: ISEE]

It is also worth noting that secondary formation of PM2.5 is not routinely considered in air quality assessments in New Zealand.


UN agency meets to tackle pollution and emissions by ships

by Fiona Harvey

International Maritime Organization aims to halve global emissions by 2050

What is this meeting and why is it important?

This week is the 74th meeting of the marine environmental protection committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and it represents one of the best hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from a large and growing sector.

Based in London, the IMO is the UN agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the environmental impact of ships, and the only organisation bringing all the world’s nations together to regulate marine transport.

Shipping accounts for at least 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This may not sound a lot but if shipping were a country it would be the sixth biggest in terms of emissions share. And it is growing fast – shipping could produce 17% of global emissions by 2050, if left unchecked. About 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea.

Even more significantly, those emissions are particularly harmful because they are mostly the result of burning heavy, pollutant-ridden fuels that are usually banned or subject to regulation onshore because of their toxic effects. Ship fuel produces sulphur dioxide, a fast acting respiratory irritant; ships burn more than 3m barrels a day of residual fuel oil, with a sulphur content more than 1,000 times that of petrol for road vehicles. The dirty fuel also releases large quantities of black carbon – soot, made up of unburned particles – that is borne on the winds to the Arctic, where it stains the snow and increases the greenhouse effect, because dark snow absorbs more heat.

What will be discussed at the meeting?

Climate change and shipping’s contribution to it will be high on the agenda, the secretary-general, Kitack Lim, confirmed in his opening speech on Monday. There will be a discussion of the IMO’s target of halving emissions by 2050, compared with 2008 levels, and of a new review – its fourth – of shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Also on the table will be IMO 2020, a plan to reduce the environmental harm from sulphur by stipulating that ships can only use fuel with a sulphur content of less than 0.5%. Marine plastic pollution will be discussed, with recent developments such as the UN’s agreement, excluding the US, to take steps to reduce the flow of plastic waste to the developing world.

What is the likely outcome?

There is expected to be progress on all of the above, probably in the form of resolutions to reaffirm existing commitments and the frames of reference for a new greenhouse gas study. The IMO on Monday evening also produced a blueprint for one of its main outcomes from the talks: GreenVoyage-2050, co-funded by the government of Norway, a plan to expand port management capacities in the developing world and set up demonstration projects that will help poor countries meet the goal of halving emissions by 2050.

Is that good enough?

Far from it, according to civil society groups and protesters. Extinction Rebellion activists are protesting outside the meeting in London, offering delegates deckchairs which they can rearrange as if on the Titanic – a reference to the futility of the efforts to regulate shipping so far, which have shown little progress over more than a decade.

Campaigning groups have differing demands from the talks. The Clean Arctic Alliance wants a ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and moves towards a wider ban. A group of ten NGOs led by Stand.Earth is calling for a moratorium on the use of “scrubbers” to remove sulphur from ship exhausts, in favour of a straightforward switch to lower sulphur fuel. The Environmental Defense Fund wants to see zero-emissions ships on the water as soon as possible. Extinction Rebellion has a very specific demand: to reduce the speed of ships by 10%, which would result in a carbon saving of 30% on current levels.

Liam Geary Baulch, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion, said: “It’s only our future at stake, so either the shipping industry can just keep rearranging the deckchairs … or they can tell the truth today and declare a climate and ecological emergency. They should act now by reducing emissions immediately. This can effectively be achieved through an immediate reduction in speeds.”

We have known about emissions from shipping for years. What progress has been made up to now?

Very little. The IMO first announced plans to move ships to fuels with a lower sulphur content in 2008. These plans will not come into force until next year. On greenhouse gases, the long-term target is a halving by 2050, compared with 2008 levels, but the industry is still stuck on carrying out yet another review. Shipping has largely escaped public scrutiny, as its emissions take place far out to sea, invisible to the consumers of the goods the ships carry

Part of the problem is that shipping, along with aviation, has been excluded from international talks on climate change almost from the start. The initial reason was pragmatic – in the run-up to the Kyoto protocol of 1997, countries could not agree how international transport should be accounted for, and whether the ships’ home countries or the countries where the cargo was landed should be deemed responsible for the emissions. In order to get the agreement through, shipping and aviation were left out altogether.

This is effectively still the case, even though in the intervening two decades emissions from these sectors have risen sharply. The industries have largely been left to regulate themselves on a voluntary basis, and their plans to do so have been slow in coming, low on ambition, weak on enforcement and, so far, inadequate to the scale of the problem.

For the IMO to turn that situation around this week is as unlikely as a supertanker sailing up the Thames to its headquarters, but protesters are hoping that their activities will at least draw public attention to what has so far been largely a hidden scourge of the seas.

[Source: (amended slightly from) The Guardian]

We’ll soon know the exact air pollution from every power plant in the world. That’s huge.

By David Roberts@drvoxdavid@vox.com May 7, 2019

A nonprofit artificial intelligence firm called WattTime is going to use satellite imagery to precisely track the air pollution (including carbon emissions) coming out of every single power plant in the world, in real time. And it’s going to make the data public.

This is a very big deal. Poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data have made it difficult to enforce pollution restrictions on power plants. This system promises to effectively eliminate poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data.

And it won’t just be regulators and politicians who see this data; it will be the public too. When it comes to environmental enforcement, the public can be more terrifying and punitive than any regulator. If any citizen group in the world can go online and pull up a list of the dirtiest power plants in their area, it eliminates one of the great informational barriers to citizen action.

The plan is to use data from satellites that make theirs publicly available (like the European Union’s Copernicus network and the US Landsat network), as well as data from a few private companies that charge for their data (like Digital Globe). The data will come from a variety of sensors operating at different wavelengths, including thermal infrared that can detect heat.

The images will be processed by various algorithms to detect signs of emissions. It has already been demonstrated that a great deal of pollution can be tracked simply through identifying visible smoke. WattTime says it can also use infrared imaging to identify heat from smokestack plumes or cooling-water discharge. Sensors that can directly track NO2 emissions are in development, according to WattTime executive director Gavin McCormick.

Between visible smoke, heat, and NO2, WattTime will be able to derive exact, real-time emissions information, including information on carbon emissions, for every power plant in the world. (McCormick says the data may also be used to derive information about water pollutants like nitrates or mercury).

WattTime is partnering with Carbon Tracker, a think tank that’s done previous work with satellite imagery, using it for financial analysis of power plants (including a pioneering study showing that 42 percent of global coal power plants are operating at a loss), and the World Resources Institute, which operates the world’s most comprehensive Global Database of Power Plants.

[Source: Vox]

New airshed proposed for Mount Maunganui Industrial Area

Following concerns about air quality and the recently measured breaches of national environmental standards for air quality, BOPRC has proposed a new airshed for the Mount Maunganui industrial area (BOPRC, 2019).

If approved this will be the first airshed in New Zealand gazetted to manage both PM10 and SO2. Currently, there are 71 airsheds gazetted in New Zealand for the purposes of the regulations.* Except Marsden Point, which was gazetted to manage SO2, the remaining 70 airsheds were gazetted to manage PM10.

*Full title: Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Air Quality) Regulations 2004.

NES breaches in Mt Maunganui

You may have missed it but tucked away on BOPRC’s website is some big news from their air quality monitors that were installed in Mount Maunganui at the end of last year. The new monitors have recorded seven breaches of the national environmental standards (NES) for air quality since November 2018.

In November there was one (permitted) exceedance, and in December two breaches, of the 24-hour NES for PM10 (50 µg/m3) recorded at Whareroa Marae (location below).

In January 2019 there was also a breach of the NES for PM10 measured at the De Havilland Way monitoring site. There were a further two breaches in February (De Havilland Way and Rail Yard South) and a breach in March (Rail Yard South).

These breaches of the NES for PM10 all appeared to arise from industrial sites.

In January 2019, four (permitted) exceedances of the lower limit, 1-hour NES for SO2 (350 µg/m3) and one breach of the upper limit (not to be exceeded) 1-hour NES for SO2 (570 µg/m3) were measured at the Rata Street monitoring site.

These short-term, elevated concentrations SO2 all appeared to arise from cruise ships at the Port.


Skrillex’s music could protect against mosquitoes

Dubstep music is a real buzzkill when it comes to the survival behaviors of mosquitoes.

Sound is critical for mosquito feeding and reproduction, researchers working to thwart the world’s most dangerous animal know. But if you really want to mess with their abilities to munch and mate, try blasting Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” The electronic song’s trademark blend of high and low frequencies disrupts signals between Aedes aegypti, a study published in Acta Tropica reveals.

The “yellow fever mosquito” bit less often and had far less sex—meaning fewer future pests—when researchers cranked the Skrillex.

The findings lay groundwork for “music-based personal protective and control measures.”

Source: BBC News

Health effects of air pollution update

The ISEE and European Respiratory Society have released a joint position statement on the health effects of air pollution and it is really well written! For example:

Particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen oxides show a typical pattern of effects, such as oxidative stress and inflammatory reactions, with consequences similar to those of tobacco smoke. The best-known pollutant is particulate matter. We know from countless experiments and observational studies that particulate matter causes inflammatory reactions in the lungs and entire body, promotes blood clotting, causes cardiac arrhythmia, increases arteriosclerosis and alters lipid metabolism. In addition, particulate matter can penetrate the brain or affect a foetus. Those same biological changes can be seen in active and passive smokers. The same diseases are produced, including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

It also has a cool new diagram showing all the ways that air pollution harms the body (yes, you’ll be seeing this one again from us):


Overview of the effects of air pollution on the whole body observed in population-based studies. [Source: Thurston, G.D., et al., (2017). Eur Respir J, 2017. 49(1).]


Importantly, it gives an indication of current thinking on annual NO2 – the annual guideline looks set to halve (yes you read that right – 20 µg/m3) in the current WHO review.

Jayne & Louise speak at Environmental Compliance Conference

In November 2018, both Jayne and Louise took the opportunity to give presentations at the New Zealand Planning Institute Environmental Compliance Conference.

Copper Moki well site near Ngaere, Stratford District.                Photo credit: Sarah Roberts, June 2014.

Louise discussed Land Use & Air Quality (which is way more interesting than it sounds). Her review of “how close is too close?” included some very scary photos underlining the air quality issues arising from incompatible land use activities such as quarries and oil and gas activities being located hard up against residential activities.

Jayne took a more philosophical approach, asking “if an odour occurs in a forest but an enforcement officer is not present to validate it – did it still occur?” Her presentation discussed the problems with validating odour and what this does, and doesn’t mean, with respect to odour complaints. It may have also had a few choice words on the subject of chronic impacts being mistaken as non objectionable but you had to be there to hear those.

Full presentations in links above.

Cruise ship pollution casts dark wake in the Capital

Emissions from a single cruise ship visit in Wellington are the equivalent to over 200,000 extra cars per day, according to air quality and greenhouse gas emissions expert Dr Gerda Kuschel, Director of Emission Impossible Ltd. Dr Kuschel’s calculation, based on other research, found that’s nearly more emissions than all of Wellington’s cars in one day.

University of Otago Senior lecturer Dr Daniel Kingston, who studies hydroclimatology and large-scale climate variation, said “The type of fuel their diesel engines use typically results in higher amount of various pollutant gases and ultra-fine particle emissions compared to car engines. Cruise ships are also a source of greenhouse gases.”

Emission Impossible Ltd’s air quality expert Louise Wickham said the health effects depended on emissions exposure. Wickham provided the example of a plume trapped under an inversion layer on a cold still morning, which may drift towards an apartment block. “If there wasn’t enough distance for the plume to disperse, the people could be exposed to elevated levels of pollutants from the combustion of heavy fuel oil.”

PM10 – which is carcinogenic, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were all part of the picture, she said.  Only Auckland Council has reviewed the air emissions from cruise ships.

A Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) spokesman said it had received no complaints regarding air pollution or water pollution caused by cruise ships. The organisation did have concerns about air pollution, whatever the source, which was why they measured air quality on land.  “However, under the RMA we are excluded from regulating emissions from vessels, which is why we do not focus on marine emissions.”

GWRC had no current plans for research, but would consider being part of any national approach developed to monitor the impact of ship/port emissions on air quality, particularly as they may affect surrounding land.

Shipping has been highlighted by the Ministry for the Environment as an emerging issue.

Dr Bevan Marten from Victoria University’s School of Law said New Zealand had no regulation on air quality from ships. “The old view was that we were too small to do anything, didn’t have any pollution and other countries would take care of it.”

New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive officer Kevin O’Sullivan said he was not aware of any research on cruise ship emissions. “We don’t have the ability to work on these sort of matters, we just listen to what’s going on. We work as a link between the Government and the cruise lines.”

Wellington Harbourmaster Grant Nalder said he didn’t believe cruise ships were any different to any other large ship. “A ship’s engine is a ship’s engine, regardless of what you’re pushing around with it.” Nalder said he was not aware of any research on the emissions in Wellington harbour.

Wreda Regional Development, Destination and Attraction General Manager David Perks said the impact of Wellington’s cruise ship industry was continuing to grow.

The 110 ships coming to Wellington was up 82 from last year. In 2007-2008 just 38 cruise ships came to Wellington. “The regional economy is set to benefit by an estimated $56 million as more than 320,000 passenger and crew arrive over the seven-month cruise season,” Perks said.

“Behind those figures lies the fact that the cruise industry supports Wellington businesses and creates jobs particularly in the tourism, retail and hospitality sectors.”

[Source: Stuff.co.nz, 16th November 2018]