Health effects of air pollution

This section summarises the health effects of air pollution in New Zealand, including burden of disease estimates.

The health effects of air pollution include premature mortality, and lung and heart problems.  A recent review has also found that particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) causes lung cancer [1].

The following data come from the Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) study [2] and updated estimates published by the Ministry for the Environment [3].

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Air pollution has major effects on health in New Zealand
Improvements between 2006 and 2012
Young children disproportionately affected
Wood and coal fires have a large health impact
The social costs of air pollution top $4 billion each year

Air pollution has major effects on health in New Zealand

In 2012, air pollution from human-made PM10 was associated with an estimated [3]:

  • 1000 premature deaths 
  • 520 extra hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
  • 1.35 million restricted activity days (when symptoms were sufficient to prevent usual activities, such as work or study). 

Improvements between 2006 and 2012

The estimated health impacts from human-made PM10 dropped from 2006 to 2012 [3].

  • Premature deaths decreased 14 percent (from 1170 to 1000 deaths)
  • Hospital admissions decreased 15 percent (from 610 to 520 admissions)
  • Restricted activity days decreased 9 percent (from 1.49 million to 1.35 million days).

These decreases in health effects are associated with a drop in PM10 concentrations between 2006 and 2012. Both figures were estimated with modelling.

Young children disproportionately affected

Young children are particularly affected by air pollution, especially with respiratory hospitalisations. In 2006, a third of all estimated respiratory admissions due to human-made air pollution were in children aged 1–4 years (236 out of 375 admissions).

Wood and coal fires have a large health impact

Data from 2006 shows that wood and coal fires were the largest human-made cause of air pollution. 

Table 1: Estimated health effects due to air pollution in New Zealand 2006

Source of air pollution Premature deaths Respiratory hospital admissions Cardiac hospital admissions
Wood and coal fires 655 203 131
Motor vehicles 256 91 51
Open (outdoor) burning 140 47 29
Industry 123 34 21
Total due to human sources 1175 375 232
Natural sources 1141 356 217
Total due to all sources 2316 731 449

Source: HAPINZ study [2]

The social costs of air pollution top $4 billion each year

In 2006, the social costs of air pollution from human sources in New Zealand were estimated to be $4.28 billion per year, or $1061 per person. These costs were attributed to:

  • domestic fires (56 percent)
  • motor vehicles (22 percent)
  • open burning (12 percent)
  • industry (10 percent). 

Information about the data

Health effects from air pollution in New Zealand

The 2006 data is from the Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand Study (HAPINZ) 2012 [2].

  • The HAPINZ study used annual average PM10 levels for 2006, using monitoring station data in airsheds, or estimated (modelled) PM10 levels.
  • The analysis used mortality data (averaged 2006–8), from the New Zealand Mortality Collection.  
  • Analysis was calculated at the small area level and aggregated.

The 2012 data is from the 2014 Air Domain Report by the Ministry for the Environment [3]. This report included updated national estimates for 2012 and 2006, based on modelling. 

References

1. Loomis D, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, et al. 2013. The carcinogenicity of outdoor air pollution. The Lancet Oncology 14(13): 1262-1263. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70487-X

2. Kuschel G, Metcalfe J, Wilton E, Guria J, Hales S, Rolfe K, et al. 2012. Updated Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand Study. Volume 1: Summary report. Prepared by Emission Impossible and others for Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry of Transport, Ministry for the Environment, and NZ Transport Agency. Available online: http://www.hapinz.org.nz

3. Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand. 2014. New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series: 2014 Air domain report. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.