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World Health Day

World Health Day

A joint statement from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, Auckland Regional Council and the University of Auckland Department of Paediatrics.

Clearing the Air for Children

Today is World Health Day. This year the theme is Healthy Environments for Children.

Children need clean air. Auckland suffers from air pollution levels that at times exceed the World Health Organisation standards. An invisible cloud of air pollution surrounds and harms people in Auckland. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than most adults.

The two periods of life of fastest growth are infancy and adolescence. There is international evidence that these two age groups are at special risk to harm from breathing in polluted air. Babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable because their immune system is still developing and less able to protect them. Children living near high traffic areas have higher rates of chronic cough and asthma and are more likely to be admitted to hospital with respiratory problems. Most worrying of all is the evidence that suggests that babies in the first year of life are more likely to die from respiratory diseases if air pollution exposure is high, and may even be harmed before birth by polluted air breathed by their mothers.

Although children are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards, much more research has been done on the effects of air pollution on adults. A 2002 report commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and called Health Effects due to Motor Vehicle Air Pollution in New Zealand, found that about 250 adults aged 30 years and over in the Auckland region die prematurely each year because of the effects of air pollution. Although we do not know how many children and young people in New Zealand die early or have their health damaged from air pollution, we have enough concern to call for action to reduce vehicle pollution now.

Air pollution is mostly invisible. Many people do not realise the severity of the problem. ARC has a decade of data about air quality. Results from inner city streets show levels of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide or tiny particulates (called PM10 and PM2.5) exceeded World Health Organisation standards on 48 days in 2001 and on 35 days in 2002.

Around 80 percent of all air pollution in the Auckland region comes from motor vehicles – every day motor vehicles put about 500 tonnes of toxins into the air. There are many schools and pre-school centres near major roads and motorways in the Auckland region.

Much of the air pollution from vehicles is from poorly maintained vehicles, which can release ten times the amount of pollution as well maintained vehicles. Other industrialised countries have compulsory vehicle emission tests.

New Zealand has worse petrol and diesel standards than most industrialised countries and many developing countries. The Government and oil industry have agreed to improve the situation – but at a slower rate than those countries. Cheaper low quality fuel means poorer health for many children and adults – and more expensive health services.

There are solutions. The removal of lead from petrol in 1996 reduced lead levels in our atmosphere. Auckland is getting cleaner diesel fuel after a campaign instigated by the ARC. Other air pollutants that affect the health of our children can be reduced with action from adults, families, businesses, and local and central government.

For our children’s health, let us take action now.

We recommend the following actions:

People of the Auckland region Tune your vehicles regularly. Use cars less often – walk, cycle, or use public transport instead. Support your school starting a walking school bus. All organisations Investigate ways of reducing vehicle emissions in your fleet (for example, join the Green Fleet scheme). Use fleet vehicles efficiently. Include bicycles in your vehicle fleet. Encourage staff to walk, cycle, use public transport, or telework sometimes instead of driving at peak times. Ask your fuel supplier to supply cleaner fuel for your fleet.

Motor and fuel industries Undertake to only sell vehicles, which meet high international emission standards. Only import vehicles that have functional catalytic converters and diesel exhaust filters. Only supply and import fuel that reaches high international standards, such as the European Union standard.

Local government Support and improve public transport. Support and develop safe walking and cycling networks.

Central government Enforce the 10 second rule (fines for vehicles emitting smoke from their exhaust for more than 10 seconds). Move to higher standards of fuel more quickly than currently planned. Introduce exhaust emission standards and compulsory checks as part of Warrant of Fitness testing. Introduce emission standards entry regulation for new and used vehicle imports. Require all imported vehicles to have functional catalytic converters and diesel exhaust filters.

Background Information

Health effects due to motor vehicle air pollution in New Zealand, report to Ministry of Transport, March 2002.

This report estimated that about 400 people aged 30 and over die prematurely each year from exposure to microscopic particles from vehicle emissions. By comparison, in 2001, 454 people died from road accidents, of whom 243 were aged 30 years and over. The effects of air pollution include coughing, wheezing, reduced lung function, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and asthma. The study did not look at increases in asthma attacks, other illnesses, family doctor visits, and hospital admissions. The authors of the report are GW Fisher, KA Rolfe, T Kjellstrom, A Woodward, S Hales, AP Sturman, S Kingham, J Petersen, R Shrestha, and D King.

The Ministry of Transport commissioned the report. It is available at

World Health Day

On April 7 each year the world celebrates World Health Day when thousands of events mark the importance of health for productive and happy lives. This year, the theme is Healthy Environments for Children. The Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, says: The biggest threats to children’s health lurk in the very places that should be safest – home, school and community. Every year over 5 million children ages 0 to 14 die, mainly in the developing world, from diseases related to their environments - the places where they live, learn and play. These diseases include diarrhoea, malaria as well as other vector-borne diseases, acute respiratory infections and unintentional injuries (accidents).

These deaths can be prevented. We know what to do. Strategies have been developed to combat these threats to children’s health. They need to be implemented on a global and national scale. So this year’s World Health Day is dedicated to ensuring Healthy Environments for Children.

We all need to do more to tackle environmental risks to children’s health. As you will see in this brochure, the burden of disease from environment-related diseases is great and falls disproportionately on children. In September 2002, WHO launched the Healthy Environments for Children Initiative.

. . . Every child has the right to grow up in a healthy home, school and community. The future development of our children – and of their world – depends on their enjoying good health now. (World Health Day Brochure, Introduction).

More information is available at

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