"Heartbreaking" reality of Mount’s air quality

Whareroa marae's environmental spokesperson Joel Ngatuere implored council candidates to understand the issues around air quality in Mount Maunganui. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.

It was “really heartbreaking” for Joel Ngatuere to hear that the reason one of the kuia living at Whareroa Marae was sick was because of where she lived.

This story is one of many shared with a crowd of around 200 people at the Mount Maunganui air pollution community meeting last week.

Whareroa resident Joel says the doctor explained to the kuia that her respiratory issues were caused by air pollution.

This was back in 2020, and the kuia died a few months later because she was unable to overcome her illness, he says.

“It's the chronic exposure [to pollutants] that is creating the harm in our community.”

Whareroa marae sits on the water’s edge in Mount Maunganui, surrounded by the industrial area, which was classed as a polluted air-shed in 2019.

The Mount Maunganui Intermediate hall was packed for the Mount Maunganui air pollution community meeting last week. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.

Charitable trust Clear the Air organised the meeting, held at Mount Maunganui Intermediate, to update the community about their recent work and studies on the impact of air pollution on people’s health.

Tauranga City Council election candidates were invited. Mayoral hopefuls Greg Brownless, Tina Salisbury, Mahé Drysdale, Ria Hall, Andrew Caie and Jos Nagels were there.

Some of the ward candidates at the meeting included, Barbara Turley, Marten Rozeboom, Teresa Killian, Michael O’Neill, Larry Baldock, Kevin Schuler and Heidi Hughes.

Heidi is a Clear the Air member and MC’d the night.

Whareroa’s environmental spokesperson, Joel, implored those running for council to get an understanding of the issues, so if elected, they could work with the community and find ways to effect change faster than the current rules allowed.

The marae has been calling for the managed retreat of heavy industry away from their whenua since 2020

Dr Jim Miller, a medical officer of health at Toi Te Ora - Public Health Service, says poor air quality was a much bigger health issue than people realised.

Dr Jim Miller a medical officer of health at Toi Te Ora - Public Health Service. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.

“It's actually one of the biggest global causes of preventable ill health.”

Air pollution in New Zealand was responsible for around 3000 premature deaths per year, he says.

The long-term effects of poor air quality included increased risk of strokes, lung cancer, and cardiovascular issues, says Jim.

He reiterated the findings of the July 2023 report commissioned by Toi Te Ora that found particulate matter from heavy industry was causing at least 13 additional premature deaths in the Mount each year.

The study compared health outcomes with nearby suburb Ōtūmoetai, because it has a similar population size and the air is also monitored.

Tauranga City Council regulatory and compliance general manager Sarah Omundsen says under the Resource Management Act land use rights were forever, unless the activity on the land changed.

A lot of the land use was granted before the RMA was introduced in 1991. This meant heavy industry was “tightly squeezed” next to homes, schools, playing fields, childcare centres and Whareroa Marae on a narrow peninsula, she says.

“If we started from scratch and this was a greenfield area, it wouldn't look like this today.”

The council was working on the Mount Arataki Spatial Plan and the Mount Industrial Planning Study. These looked at future planning outcomes and introducing stricter controls on future industrial land activity around sensitives areas likes schools and homes, says Sarah. 

“We can’t fix that planning of the past, but we have to get the planning of the future right.”

Bay of Plenty Regional council regulatory services general manager Reuben Fraser says part of the regional council’s role was to manage the environmental effects of discharge into the environment.

If a business breached its permitted levels of discharge the council issue an abatement notice or in “serious circumstances” prosecute people through the courts, he says.

The regional council had also been monitoring the air around Mount Maunganui since the 1990s.

Clear the Air spokesperson Emma Jones says the trust was formed in 2020 by a group of parents who decided “enough was enough” after watching their children run cross country while the “air was thick with the stench of the industrial odours”.

Clear the Air spokesperson Emma Jones. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.

Clear the Air has been involved in planning and consenting processes, worked with the councils and industrial businesses and participated at hearings and court cases, says Emma.

In May, Emma and Joel made submissions to the select committee opposing the proposed Fast-track Approvals Bill.

The bill would cut the red tape for infrastructure and development projects that are considered to have significant regional or national benefits.

“It feels like a marathon but it’s actually more like a relay … because we are doing this for our children and future generations,” says Emma.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.


I have lived.....

Posted on 25-06-2024 19:12 | By Bruja

All over this area, from Omokoroa right through to Mount Maunganui and downtown areas of Tauranga as well as Otumoetai for 35+ years. NOWHERE except the Mount has made my car COVERED in 'thick dust' to the point I do not even attempt to clean it because it's back the next day. I have to 'hose the windscreen just to see out of it!! My window-sills and blinds have a layer of fine BLACK dust all over them and I am BREATHING ALL of that in!!! NOT OKAY!!!!!

Heartbreaking for everyone

Posted on 25-06-2024 21:10 | By Naysay

This affects all residents and visitors to our area. Do you play sport in the Mount , holiday or visit for the day? We are all affected by this disgraceful effects of poor management. And still consents are given for additional permits. Really ? The black dust that creeps its way into our windows everyday , we wipe off our sills and car windows and think it's acceptable. Heartbreaking for the environment and our health.


Posted on 26-06-2024 12:31 | By morepork

Your first-hand report makes it very real. Thanks for that. Obviously, we have to do something about this.

Stop it at source.

Posted on 26-06-2024 12:41 | By morepork

This should not be about the effects on people living in the Mount (although that is a serious motivator for it); rather, it should be about how slack we are in requiring industrial processes to be "clean". Why are we tolerating dirty industries in this day and age? The "dark satanic mills" of the industrial revolution should be long gone. Heavy industry should be compelled to monitor and deal with pollutants created by the process, IRRESPECTIVE of whether people live nearby or not. If a process is creating dangerous pollution then that process needs to be fixed, whether or not there are people affected by it. Industry will moan about increased costs, but we cannot put a price on our environment and the lives of our people. If a clean process to make something is not possible, then don't make it. If it's critical, then import it, completed.

seems like

Posted on 26-06-2024 14:52 | By Mein Fuhrer

something is definitely out of balance.

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