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Report shows New Zealand air quality is good

18 October 2018

An environmental report released today shows that air quality in New Zealand is generally good.

Our air 2018, produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, shows that while some previously known issues persist, progress has been made and levels of some pollutants are declining.

“The report shows that using wood and coal burners to heat homes in winter continues to cause issues in some places. This remains the largest single cause of human-generated poor air quality in New Zealand,” Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said.

“The report also shows vehicle emissions as a leading cause of poor air quality in some places.

“However, information from monitoring sites shows levels of some particulate matters have decreased over the past decade, which is a welcome sign, as is the resulting slight improvement in overall health outcomes,” Ms MacPherson said.

“This report paints a series of separate pictures. The overall news is good, but we still have some specific issues to address. Progress is being made with those but there’s more to do,” Deputy Secretary at the Ministry for the Environment Amanda Moran said.

“The situation is getting better but it’s still not perfect and we must keep working on improvements. Clean air to breathe is a key part of well-being for all New Zealanders. We know the health impacts from air pollution can be serious, and those with a pre-existing condition such as asthma are more susceptible.

“Responsibility for that continued improvement is shared by all: central and local government, industry, communities, and individuals. Technology changes, for example improved wood burners or electric vehicles, will help but we also need to change our behaviours, like getting out of our cars and being careful what we burn.

“We need to ensure the National Environmental Standard that covers this area remains fit for purpose and that all areas of government policy-making, such as transport policy or urban planning, take air quality issues into account,” Ms Moran added.

Our air 2018 is the latest report in the environmental reporting series published by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ. Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said these reports play a vital role in providing a clearer picture of the state of our environment.

“Like other reports in this series, Our air 2018 is well-founded on robust and quality-assured data and shows us where efforts to improve our air quality would be best focused,” Ms MacPherson said.

Key findings

Key sources of air pollution in New Zealand
• Burning wood and coal for home heating in winter is the single leading cause of human-generated poor air quality.
• Vehicle emissions are also an important cause of human-generated poor air quality.

Particulate matter

• Winter PM10 levels have dropped between 2007 and 2016 in 17 of 39 monitored areas.
• In 2015, home-heating caused 25 percent of the human-generated PM10 and 33 percent of PM2.5 particles.

Health impacts

• Particulate matter in the air can cause shortness of breath and coughing, can aggravate asthma and cause other more serious health impacts.
• Modelling shows PM10 contributed to an estimated 8 percent fewer premature adult deaths in 2016 than in 2006 as more people live in areas with less pollution.

Vehicles

• Vehicles were the main source of the human-generated nitrogen oxides added to our air in 2015.
• There was a decreasing trend in nitrogen oxides concentration between 2004 and 2016.

Other pollutants

• Arsenic levels in our air peak in winter when people burn treated wood for home heating.
• Sulphur dioxide from shipping is an emerging pollutant in cities with ports.

Light pollution

• In 2014, an estimated 74 percent of the North Island and 93 percent of the South Island had night skies that were either pristine or only degraded by light pollution near the horizon.
• Most of our skies are pristine. But light pollution in cities mean that 56 percent of Kiwis can’t see the Milky Way.
• Light pollution could affect mātauranga Māori and cultural practices, natural ecosystems, and biodiversity.

For more information, including the full report, see Our air 2018. Graphics from the report are available on request.

For more information about these statistics:

• Visit New Zealand’s environmental reporting series: Our air 2018

ends

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