Indicators at a glance - Air quality

This section summarises the latest Environmental Health Indicators about air quality and health in New Zealand.

Summary

Air pollution can be produced from human activity or natural sources. In New Zealand, wood and coal fires and motor vehicles are major human-made sources of air pollution.

Air quality is monitored at sites throughout New Zealand, including for: PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometres), nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. 

Indicator Key findings
Wood and coal fires
  • The proportion of homes using wood fires for home heating dropped from 41% in 2006 to 37% in 2013.
  • The proportion of homes using coal fires dropped from 7% in 2006 to 4% in 2013.
Motor vehicles
  • In 2015, there were almost 3.9 million vehicles in New Zealand - the highest number ever. 
  • The average age of light passenger vehicles in New Zealand has increased to 14.3 years in 2015. Older vehicles tend to release more harmful vehicle emissions.
  • In 2015, there were 767 light vehicles per 1000 people in New Zealand.
Particulate matter (PM10)
  • Most monitoring sites (45 out of 53) met the annual average PM guidelines in 2013.

  • There were eight monitored sites that exceeded the WHO annual guideline. Anzac Park in Timaru had the highest annual PM10 level , followed by Alexandra and Woolston 

  • In 2013, 21 of the 37 airsheds exceeded the daily PM10 standard on 2 or more days. 

Other air pollutants
  • Most monitoring sites for nitrogen dioxide met the annual average NO guideline in 2013 (118 out of 122 sites).
  • Three of the eight monitoring sites for sulphur dioxide exceeded the daily guideline in 2013: Christchurch (Woolston), Auckland waterfront, and Timaru (Washdyke).
  • All 21 monitoring sites for carbon monoxide met the 8-hour standard in 2013.  
Health effects of air pollution 
  • In 2012, human-made air pollution in New Zealand was associated with an estimated: 1000 premature deaths, and 520 extra hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses.
  • These estimates had decreased from 1170 premature deaths and 610 hospital admissions in 2006.