Pupils help Niwa research air quality

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YVONNE O’HARA

yvonne.ohara@alliedpress.co.nzAlexandra Primary School pupils will record wood burner smoke levels inside their homes, as part of research being carried out by several Auckland-based Niwa scientists.

The scientists were at the school last week, talking to the pupils about the town’s air quality.

Air quality scientist Dr Ian Longley said the data collected from the sensors would be used as part of a project to determine patterns of air pollution as a result of wood burning for home heating in the Alexandra basin.

He said the 10 simple sensors the children built were designed by fellow Niwa scientist Gustavo Olivares.

They are a simplified version of the Outdoor Dust Information Node (Odin) monitors, which the scientists will install at about 100 outdoor locations throughout Alexandra to collect data about the region’s pollution levels and variability of occurrence and location.

Dr Longley said the children’s sensors would record smoke levels inside their homes and the data would also help determine how much outdoor smoke was entering the homes.

“We usually find that varies hugely from home to home.

“The more homes we can sample, the more we can understand what is normal and abnormal,” he said.

The children will also use an app to record whether they can see or smell smoke and if they have breathing difficulties or coughing.

Dr Longley said once the information was analysed, there was likely to be a presentation by the pupils to families about the results.

The data collected from the sensors would be used to generate possible solutions to Alexandra’s air quality problems.

“What we are finding is most of the rest of the country has made significant improvements to their air quality, but South Canterbury, Otago and Southland have persistent [air pollution] problems that do not go away.

“The dominant pollutant is wood smoke from homes.”

Dr Longley said the children would also be involved in an “informed debate”, and would be able to take information home to encourage their families to make even small changes that would reduce the amount of pollution being generated by wood burning at home.

That could include loading the burner correctly, using an appropriate or different type of wood, whether it was wet or dry, and improving maintenance of burners and chimneys.

The project is part of the Unlocking Curious Minds programme, funded by Niwa through the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Enterprise.

Otago Regional Council monitored the air quality in eight towns, including Alexandra, Clyde and Cromwell.

The National Environmental Standard for Air Quality showed last year Alexandra exceeded the standards on 43 days, Clyde on 23 days and Cromwell on 42 days.