From our Chair: Managing dust in Canterbury

Is dust simply one of life’s irritations – a nuisance at worst – or can something more be done to help those who are living with it day in and day out?

Jenny Hughey

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

At Council on Thursday 11 March, we heard from two members of our community who live in close proximity to the quarries on the edge of Christchurch.

They articulated the facts as they see them – and they also outlined how they feel about the lives they are living due to the daily issues with dust that they believe to be coming from the quarries. I found their experience of living with dust personally heartbreaking.

Managing dust

As Councils, we have rules and frameworks that we must work within. Consenting for quarries is something that has a set of rules around it – how far from houses they are is set in the district plans, how much particulate matter (dust) is acceptable is set in the Canterbury Air Regional Plan in line with central government standards – and we follow them.

Having said that, we also have an obligation to look after the wellbeing of our people, and we need to be listening to them. What elected members need to make or change a decision or course of action is a) evidence and b) the right planning/rule framework.

This brings me to what we are currently doing regarding dust.

Monitoring dust in the Yaldhurst area

In 2017/18 we monitored airborne dust in the Yaldhurst area. Particular concerns surrounded the level (and known risk) of respirable crystalline silica in the dust.

While that study showed that there was no evidence the dust was harmful or posed a serious public health risk, it did show that dust was getting over the boundary of the quarries on occasion and that the dust levels dropped over the first 500m from the boundary. This led to us signalling tougher quarry dust management and monitoring requirements, particularly for quarries within 500 metres of someone’s home.

However, for some of the people living in the area, dust remains a major concern to this day.

Find out more about how we monitored dust in the Yaldhurst area. 

McLeans Island dust app

We are therefore undertaking a pilot study using a different approach, more directly involving the residents.

Seen dust? Report it

This month we have been asking McLeans Island residents, businesses and any visitors to log noticeable dust using our web-based reporting tool (or by phoning 0800 765 588).

Two dust monitors, which record background dust levels as well as wind direction and speed, have been installed and we have assigned two staff members to work with the community on the issue.

This study is necessary to determine the source(s) of the dust since the remedial action taken to date by the quarries doesn’t appear to have addressed the dust issue the community is reporting. It may be that more than one source is contributing to the problem.

Once we can confirm the source(s), we can ensure the right action is being taken.

This is going to be a bit frustrating for the population who have been maintaining for some time that the source is the quarries. They may be right, but I hope they understand our need for evidence.

Living with dust in Canterbury

As Cantabrians, we are no strangers to dust. We live in one of the driest parts of New Zealand and, as a result, glacially-ground dust and even occasionally topsoil blows across the region during strong nor’westers.

Where we can control the dust though, we should. The more information we have, the better we can manage the situation. How we respond to that information – such as any necessary plan changes or enforcement action – will be based on evidence gathered from the community and from our science monitoring efforts.

That will be of huge benefit to everyone and a major boost to affected residents’ quality of life.

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