Health effects of hazardous substances
This section provides information that helps us to monitor injuries and diseases from hazardous substances exposure.
These data came from several different data sources likely to collectively capture hazardous substances injuries of different severity. These include deaths, hospital discharges, lead absorption and hazardous substances notifications, hazardous substances incidents, and National Poisons Centre calls.
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In 2014, there were 41 hazardous substances-related deaths registered in New Zealand. This represents a 55 percent decrease in the number of hazardous substances deaths since 2006 (91 deaths).
Between 2006 and 2014, the male age-standardised mortality rates from a hazardous substance were three to nine times as high as the female rates (Figure 1).
Toxic effects of carbon monoxide caused 379 deaths between 2006 and 2014. Death from carbon monoxide exposure was most common in the 25-44 (130 deaths) and 45-64 (150 deaths) year age groups.
Between 2006 and 2016, there were 7,659 hospital discharges attributed to hazardous substances exposure – an average of 696 per year. In 2016, there were 689 hazardous substances-related hospital discharges.
Males continued to have higher hospital discharge rates than females (Figure 2).
From 2006 to 2016, marked differences were evident in age-specific hazardous substances-related discharge rates. Compared to all other age groups, children under five years old continued to have higher discharge rates from hazardous substances (Figure 3). These results are similar to those previously found [1,2].
There were 105 notifications of lead absorption in 2017 compared with 106 notifications in 2016 (Figure 4).
- In 2007, direct laboratory notification was introduced, the non-occupational notifiable blood lead level was lowered from 0.72 to 0.48µmol/l and enhanced occupational screening was introduced in the Auckland region.
- In 2013, the Hazardous Substances Disease and Injury Reporting Tool (HSDIRT) was rolled out to all health districts. Repeat blood lead level tests taken within a year of the original test has been excluded from this data unless further investigation has resulted.
Notifications peaked in 2009, with around 50 lead absorption cases associated with repainting the Auckland Harbour Bridge. This was drawn to the attention of the then Department of Labour (now Worksafe NZ) who revised their Guidelines for the Medical Surveillance of Lead Workers in 2011. These guidelines state that employers must ensure that medical surveillance is provided to all workers involved in lead work.
In 2017, there were 39 lead absorption notifications where occupation was recorded as the source of exposure. The most common occupations were:
- Painter (49 notifications)
- Radiator repairer (2 notifications)
- Sandblaster (2 notifications)
Painter was also the most commonly reported occupation in 2016 and 2015.
There were 107 notifications related to hazardous substances in 2017, in comparison to 105 notifications in 2016.
In 2017, sixty-four percent (69 notifications) of the hazardous substances notifications were males. Across all age groups, the 25-44 year age group had the highest number of notifications (40 notifications).
Fire and Emergency New Zealand attends around 1,200 hazardous substances incidents every year
From 2009 to 2016, Fire and Emergency New Zealand attended 9,918 hazardous substances incidents (Table 1). This is an average of about 1,239 incidents every year. The highest number of incidents (1,436) was reported in 2010 followed by 1,354 incidents in 2015.
There was a drop in the number of incidents in 2011 and 2012 due to industrial action.
Table 1: Number of hazardous substances incidents for each alarm level, 2009-2016
The National Poisons Centre (NPC) received 4,297 calls concerning hazardous substances in five months of 2016. Over 50 percent were related to children under five years (Table 2).
Household products were the most common exposure across all age groups (2,805 calls) (Table 2).
These data exclude poisonings from medicines, drugs, food, alcohol, and carbon monoxide where the source was not from the combustion of gas from a cylinder.
Most hazardous substances injuries are considered acute (short-term, intense exposure) rather than chronic (prolonged low intensity exposure) events. Chronic harm from hazardous substances is hard to measure because it is often difficult to determine what caused the harm. This means that data on chronic harm is hard to find and likely to underestimate the number of people affected.
For more information about the data, see the Annual Hazardous Substances Injury Report 201 (Dec 2017) (pdf, 1.1 MB).
For more information about our hazardous substances surveillance, go to the hazardous substances surveillance webpage.
1. McGuigan MA. 1999. Common Culprits in Childhood Poisoning: Epidemiology, Treatment and Parental Advice for Prevention. Pediatric Drugs 1: 313-4.
2. Yates KM. 2003. Accidental poisoning in New Zealand. Emergency Medicine 15(3): 244-9.
3. ESR. 2013. Notifiable and other diseases in New Zealand: Annual Report 2012. Porirua: Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited. Available online: https://surv.esr.cri.nz/surveillance/annual_surveillance.php