About exceptional circumstances and how to apply

This page explains the exceptional circumstances provision in the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality for an exceedance of an air quality standard and how to make an application.

About the exceptional circumstances provision

In 2011, the provision for exceptional circumstances was added to the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality as Regulation 16A. The provision allows regional councils to apply for an exceedance of an air quality standard as being caused by an exceptional circumstance. 

What is an exceptional circumstance?

Exceptional circumstances are assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Minister for the Environment, on written application by a regional council.

If the Minister decides that an exceedance was caused by exceptional circumstances, that exceedance is excluded when determining whether the standard for the relevant contaminant has been breached in that airshed. However, the regional council is still required to give public notice of the exceedance.

Criteria for assessment

The Minister considers applications for exceedances to be assessed as caused by exceptional circumstances, on a case-by-case basis.

When providing advice to the Minister, the Ministry uses the following five criteria to help assess whether an exceedance was caused by exceptional circumstances:

  • Causation – whether the exceedance was caused by the events being assessed
  • Control – the circumstances must be beyond the reasonable control of the regional council
  • Foreseeability – an assessment of whether the circumstances were able to be reasonably predicted and/or planned for
  • Frequency and likelihood of reoccurrence – an assessment of how unusual the events were
  • Purpose of the RMA – whether a determination that circumstances were exceptional is consistent with the purpose of the RMA.

These criteria are explained in more detail in the 2011 users' guide to the revised National Environmental Standards for Air Quality: Updated 2014.

How to make an application

Councils can apply for exceptional circumstances by completing the following application form for exceedances:

Under Regulation 16A(2), the Minister must receive the application for exceptional circumstances no later than three months after the date of the exceedance. Regulation 16A(4) states that the Minister must provide the council with written notice of his or her decision no later than three months after the date on which the application was received.

We recommend that councils contact the Ministry for the Environment before completing their application.

Processed applications and their details

Details of applications for exceptional circumstances received by the Ministry, including the outcome and links to documents that applicants used to make the applications, are listed below.  

Tasman District Council Application for 7 December 2019

Council: Tasman District Council

Airshed: Richmond Airshed

Date of exceedance: 7 December 2019

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 52 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence shows that the exceedance was caused by smoke and dust particles from the 2019-2020 Australian dust storms and bushfires, which were dispersed across areas the Tasman Sea by unusual wind flows.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Tasman District Council application document [PDF 206 KB]

Tasman District Council supporting information [PDF 347 KB] 

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Application for 6 December 2019

Council: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Airsheds: Mount Maunganui Airshed; Rest of Bay of Plenty Region Airshed

Date of exceedance: 6 December 2019

Pollutant: PM10

Concentrations: 52-66 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed there were exceedances recorded at five monitoring sites in the Bay of Plenty Region, caused by smoke and dust particles from the 2019-2020 Australian dust storms and bushfires, which were dispersed across areas the Tasman Sea by unusual wind flows.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council application document [PDF, 2.2 MB]

Waikato Regional Council Application for 6 December 2019

Council: Waikato Regional Council

Airsheds: Putaruru Airshed, Huntly Airshed and Rest of Waikato Region Airshed

Date of exceedance: 6 December 2019

Pollutant: PM10

Concentrations: 50.6-52.7 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed there were exceedances recorded at five monitoring sites in the Waikato Region, caused by smoke and dust particles from the 2019-2020 Australian dust storms and bushfires, which were dispersed across areas the Tasman Sea by unusual wind flows.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Waikato Regional Council application document [PDF, 1.8 MB]

Waikato Regional Council cover letter [PDF, 420 KB]

Auckland Council Application for 6 December 2019

Council: Auckland Council

Airsheds: Auckland Urban Airshed and Auckland Rural Airshed 

Date of exceedance: 6 December 2019

Pollutant: PM10

Concentrations: 54-58 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed there were exceedances recorded at three monitoring sites in the Auckland Region, caused by smoke and dust particles from the 2019-2020 Australian dust storms and bushfires, which were dispersed across areas the Tasman Sea by unusual wind flows.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Auckland Council application document [PDF, 882 KB]

Auckland Council supporting information [PDF, 1.5 MB]

Auckland Council cover letter [PDF, 145 KB]

Auckland Council Application for 23 October 2019

Council: Auckland Council

Airshed: Auckland Urban Airshed 

Date of exceedance: 23 October 2019

Pollutant: PM10

Concentrations: 201.3-287.6 micrograms per cubic metre (1 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed that an exceedance occurred as a result of smoke emissions from an accidental fire at the New Zealand International Convention Centre construction site.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Auckland Council application document [PDF, 834 KB]

Auckland Council supporting information [PDF, 592 KB]

Auckland Council cover letter [PDF, 149 KB]

Environment Canterbury Application for 1 February 2019

Council: Canterbury Regional Council

Airshed: Geraldine airshed

Date of exceedance: 1 February 2019

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 53 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: Not fully ascertained. The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by a non-combustion source that was not associated with human activities. Further evidence indicated the exceedance was most likely caused by dust particles carried from the Southern Alps to the monitoring site by northwest foehn winds.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Canterbury Regional Council application document [PDF, 5.8 MB]

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Application for 12 June 2018

Council: Hawke’s Bay Regional Council

Airshed: Awatoto airshed

Date of exceedance: 12 June 2018

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 56.6 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by sea salt. A combination of high seas and moderate east to south-easterly winds throughout the day carried sea salt particles to the monitoring station.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council application document [PDF, 3.4 MB]

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Application for 29 April 2017

Council: Hawke's Bay Regional Council

Airshed: Awatoto airshed

Date of exceedance: 29 April 2017

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 75 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by elevated sea salt brought to the monitoring site by onshore winds during a long-period of swells with significantly high waves.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council application document [PDF, 634 KB]

Horizon Regional Council Application for 28-30 March 2016

Council: Horizon Regional Council

Airshed: Taumarutui

Date of exceedance:  28, 29, 30 April 2017

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 56, 105 and 82 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average) respectively

Circumstances of exceedance: Not fully ascertained. The application was assessed based on previous years’ levels for the site, which are well below the standard, the season the exceedances occurred, which recorded high ambient temperatures, and the absence of visible smoke in the vicinity of the monitoring site and the airshed during those days.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Horizon Regional Council application document [PDF, 2,19 KB]

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Application for 1 October 2014

Council: Hawke's Bay Regional Council

Airshed: Awatoto airshed

Date of exceedance: 1 October 2014

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 58 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by sea salt. A combination of high seas and southeasterly winds throughout the day carried sea salt particles to the monitoring station located 200m west of the shoreline.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council application document [PDF, 4 KB]

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Application for 3 August 2014

Council: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Airshed: Bay of Plenty Airshed (consisting of the Bay of Plenty region excluding the Rotorua Airshed)

Date of exceedance: 3 August 2014

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 51 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by sea salt. A combination of high seas and moderate northerly winds throughout the day carried sea salt particles to the monitoring station located 2.5 km to the southwest of the shoreline.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council application document [PDF, 13 KB]

Auckland Council Application for 4 June – 8 July 2014

Council: Auckland Council

Airshed: Auckland Urban Airshed 

Date of exceedance: 4 June – 8 July 2014

Pollutant: NO2

Concentration: 201.3-287.6 micrograms per cubic metre (1 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed there were 13 exceedances caused by emissions from a diesel generator, temporarily located close to the monitoring station

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Auckland Council application document [PDF, 5.9 MB]

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Application for 11 June 2014

Council: Hawke's Bay Regional Council

Airshed: Awatoto airshed

Date of exceedance: 11 June 2014

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 55 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by sea salt. A combination of high seas and moderate easterly winds throughout the day carried sea salt particles to the monitoring station located 200m west of the shoreline.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council application document [PDF, 10 KB]

Otago Regional Council Application for 27 July 2013

Council: Otago Regional Council

Airshed: Otago airshed 3 (which consists of Balclutha, North and Central Dunedin, Port Chalmers, Waikouaiti and Oamaru)

Date of exceedance: 27 July 2013

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 56 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by coffee powder blown towards the Albany Street monitoring station. The coffee powder came from the Cerebos Greggs Dunedin Instant Coffee plant which is located close to the monitoring station and experienced a valve failure.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Otago Regional Council application document  [PDF, 4 MB]

Waikato Regional Council Application for 12 May – 6 June 2013

Council: Waikato Regional Council

Airshed: Hamilton airshed

Date of exceedances: 12 May – 6 June 2013

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 57 (min) to 135 (max) micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the eight exceedances that occurred over the period of a month were caused by significant roadworks that took place at an intersection close to the monitoring station. The dust from the roadworks was carried by wind towards the Peachgrove monitoring station located close by.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Waikato Regional Council application [PDF, 6 MB]

Auckland Council application for 7 March 2013

Council: Auckland Council

Airshed: Auckland Urban airshed

Date of exceedance: 7 March 2013

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 77 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: The evidence showed the exceedance was caused by a large fireworks event that took place as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. The smoke from the fireworks was carried by wind towards the Khyber Pass monitoring station located close by.

The Minister decided to DECLINE this application.

Auckland Council application document [PDF, 6 MB]

Environment Canterbury application for 9 January 2013

Council: Environment Canterbury

Airshed: Ashburton airshed

Date of exceedance: 9 January 2013

Pollutant: PM10

Concentration: 66 micrograms per cubic metre (24 hour average)

Circumstances of exceedance: Evidence showed the exceedance was caused by an interaction between two extreme weather events. The Rakaia, Rangitata and Ashburton rivers experienced a flood event early in January 2013, and this was followed by strong winds. Silt deposited on the river beds as a result of the floods was then carried into the Ashburton airshed by the winds, causing an increase in PM10 concentrations and an exceedance of the PM10 standard.

The Minister decided to GRANT this application.

Environment Canterbury application document [PDF, 4.20 MB]

Reviewed:
02/09/20