Wood Smoke Stories

Misery in New Zealand

We live in New Zealand, where the measure of a man is rugby, beer and burning and processing wood. Due to local conditions and wind currents, the smoke from our neighbour’s chimney goes directly to the ground and drifts over our property.

They burn 365 days of the year, including up to 14 hours a day in summer and 24 in winter. They often stay up all night feeding it until 6AM even in summer, causing thick smoke for 15 minutes to over an hour each time it is loaded.

They burn offensive materials such as moss and fungus covered scavenged scrap, green, treated, rotten, painted and varnished wood, high sulphur coal, household rubbish, plastics, very toxic chemical smelling materials and something that smells like dried dog faeces. They have not put rubbish bags out for collection since they moved in in 2005. They have only cleaned their flue once in the last 13 years (after being told to by the council), and since then the cowl —  an anti-updraught type, has caught fire several times, which causes thick creosote fumes to come over our property. The cap and cowl are completely covered with thick black creosote and tar dripping down onto the masonry below.

The smoke penetrates into our house, and keeps us awake at night, causing us to have to cover our windows with plastic, and our doors with heavy curtains and snakes, and we cannot open our house or enjoy our yard, even in summer. They seem to light it deliberately when we are outside in the yard. We are forced to use air conditioning 24/7 all summer, because we usually can't open our doors and windows. When we have our doors open, our house is filled with thick foul smoke at the most unusual and inconvenient times such as in the middle of a hot sunny day. Causes mold in winter. PM2.5 levels reach up to 600ug/m3, the max reading of our meter. Even with our doors and windows covered, the indoor PM2.5 levels are still up to 80% of the outside levels.

The first time I approached him about it, it was 32c (90F), 100% humidity and our house suddenly filled with thick foul smoke. I asked “Why do you have your fire going in the middle of summer” and didn’t say another word. He screamed at me non-stop for 40 minutes straight then punched a punching bag in his garage for 20 minutes. Council have told them several times to stop burning rubbish, and burn only clean dry wood, which they ignore. Has openly stated he will burn whatever he wants, and he hopes we die from their smoke. When I said to her “It's a bit smoky isn't it?” She threw her hands in the air and said “F***** smoggy, who cares”.

I have received threats of death and bodily harm and various types of harassment such as CCTV cameras pointed at our windows and yard, chainsaw revving (not cutting wood, just revving) for hours at a time and intensification of smoke all due to making complaints. Their woodburner was self-installed around 2010 without council consent but was banned in 2005 under the national environmental standards for air quality regulations. Council refuses to act, claiming they have no legislation, despite section 29(m) of the health act 1956, National environmental standards for air quality regulations 2004 section 22, Resource Management Act 1991 section 17, building code G4.3.4, and local government act 2002 section 191.

The environmental health officer has stated she does not believe it is likely to be injurious to health, despite the vast body of evidence saying it is. Have repeatedly failed to respond to callouts, refused to take pollution readings and threatened to fine us for making “unsubstantiated complaints” to the pollution hotline. Also stated the building team have retrospectively consented their woodburner despite Resource Management Act 1991 44A(8) which says they must use all of their powers to observe the national environmental standards regulations, which banned their wood burner. We have experienced various environmental toxin related health issues ranging from adult onset asthma, headaches, nosebleeds, eye, nose and throat irritation to respiratory distress hospital admissions, non-hodgkins lymphoma, artherosclerosis, congestive heart failure and stroke. We have spent thousands of dollars on credit cards on a solid wooden fence, hedging conifers, camera & hard drives, pollution meter, and veterinary bills due to environmental toxin related health issues in our pets including non-hodgkins lymphoma, fibrosarcoma, congestive heart failure and lung cancer. We have decided we are not going down without a fight, and are planning to start legal proceedings.