Working to improve air quality in our region
Community and Public Health provides a supporting role to Environment Canterbury for monitoring and policy responses to ambient air quality issues and improvements.
Air pollution and air quality in New Zealand
New Zealand research suggests that ambient air pollution is responsible for an estimated 970 premature deaths each year in people over 30 years of age, approximately 400 of which are from vehicle emissions. Fine particles are produced in the combustion of fuel pose greater health risks than previously thought – these are known as PM10 and PM2.5. Harmful gases also affect air quality such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene and nitrogen dioxide.
There are several different sources of air pollution:
- Area sources including home heating, outdoor burning, dust from construction , livestock and landfills..
- Transport sources such as cars, truck, buses, motorcycles, boats and shipping, as well as dust from unsealed roads.
- Many industrial processes release air pollutants as well as from heating commercial or public buildings like schools and hospitals.
- Natural sources include wind-blown dust, pollen, sea salt, volcanic and geothermal activity, and ash from wildfires.
Children, elderly people and those with respiratory diseases are more vulnerable to air pollution and areas of high deprivation have greater excess mortality from air pollution. The infographic below shows the health impacts of air pollutants ranging from coughing and throat irritation to respiratory and cardiovascular disease and cellular and genetic damage.
Find out more about the health effects of some common air pollutants (Ministry for the Environment).
Ministry of Health monitoring air quality following Australian bushfires
Ministry of Health media release: 6th January 2020
The Ministry of Health is continuing to monitor and review the air quality data in New Zealand to assess the impact of the Australian bushfire smoke.
This data currently shows that the increases in particulate matter tend to be held in the upper atmosphere and are much more diluted at ground level. Data from air quality monitoring stations does not show the daily limits for particulates in air are being exceeded. This means the smoke that is being seen is not expected to impact on the air we breathe and any intermittent, short-term increases in smoke are unlikely to cause any significant health issues.
However it is possible that some people may still experience ill effects even though the pollution levels remain relatively low.
People who are more at risk include those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions, older people or those with chronic illnesses. Those with asthma or another respiratory disease should seek medical advice if your symptoms worsen and/or don’t improve with your normal treatment plan.
Contact your health professional or free call Healthline (0800 611 116) for health advice if you are concerned.
Winter air quality issues in Christchurch
Temperature inversions exacerbate air quality problems in Christchurch during the cooler months, especially when people are burning wood or coal to heat their homes. Cooling near the ground’s surface on clear nights leads to cold air near the ground being overlaid by a layer of warm air – the opposite of the normal temperature gradient. This warm air acts as a lid – trapping pollutants and allowing them to build up. The surrounding hills and valleys act as additional barriers.
These inversion events are responsible for peak PM concentrations at many of the monitoring sites in Christchurch residential areas. Most of the air pollution under these conditions is from human activities.
Contact your local CPH office for further information:
Ph: +64 3 364 1777
Fax: +64 3 379 6125
Ph: +64 3 687 2600
Fax: +64 3 688 6091
Ph: +64 3 768 1160
Fax: +64 3 768 1169
For additional information, contact:
ECAN Winter Air Pollution Forecast
Ph: +64 3 353 9004
Canterbury Regional Air Plan
Community and Public Health has a joint work plan with Environment Canterbury around common areas of interest, including air quality.
One example of this collaboration was the review of the Regional Air Plan. A joint Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of the Air Plan was done to assess the potential impact of proposed plan changes on population health.
The HIA revealed that air quality is closely linked with housing, heating, and energy use, and these factors need to be considered when dealing with unintended health consequences. The HIA recommendations included the carefully phased introduction of home heating changes along with supporting measures, such as targeted heating and insulation subsidies.