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 2018, there were about 4.3 million motor vehicles in New Zealand, the highest number ever.
  • There were 802 light vehicles per 1,000 people in 2018. This represents one of the highest car ownership rates in the world
  • Light electric vehicles accounted for 2.1% of all light vehicle registrations in December 2019,compared to 0.03% in January 2014.
  • The average age of the light vehicle fleet increased from 11.8 years in 2000 to 14.1 years in 2018.
Particulate matter
  • Most monitoring sites (45 out of 53) met the annual average PM10 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
  • Five out of 13 stations exceeded the national standard (one-hour average) for nitrogen dioxide between 2004
    and 2016.
  • Six out of nine monitoring stations exceeded the 24-hour average WHO guideline for sulphur dioxide between 2008 and 2017.
  • All 21 monitoring sites for carbon monoxide met the 8-hour standard in 2013.  
Health effects of air pollution 
  • In 2016, human-made air pollution in New Zealand was associated with an estimated: 1,277 premature deaths, 676 extra hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and 1.49 million restricted activity days.
  • Timaru District, Invercargill City, and Gore District were the territorial authorities with the highest number of health effects per 100,000 people in 2016.
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