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.

Environment Canterbury is responsible for monitoring of Canterbury air quality.

Ministry for the Environment develops national indicators and strategies on air quality.

Sources of air pollution: natural sources, outdoor burning, home heating, indoor sources, traffic and industrial. Source: LAWA website.

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.

The impact of particulate matter on the human body. Source: Ministry for the Environment.

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.

Local weather and topography can cause temperature inversion that traps pollution. Source: Ministry for the Environment.



Contact your local office for further information:

Ph: +64 3 364 1777

Ph: +64 3 687 2600

Ph: +64 3 768 1160

For additional information, contact:

ECAN Winter Air Pollution Forecast
Ph: +64 3 353 9004

When is your wood burner due to expire?

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.

LAWA: Land Air Water Aotearoa.

Page last updated: 10/10/2023

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