Indicators at a glance - Air quality

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


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 2017, there were about 4.2 million vehicles in New Zealand - the highest number ever. 
  • The average age of light passenger vehicles in New Zealand has increased to 14.4 years in 2016. Older vehicles tend to release more harmful vehicle emissions.
  • In 2017, there were 792 light vehicles per 1,000 people in New Zealand.
  • In the fourth quarter of 2018, there were 8,462 pure electric and 2,759 plug-in hybrid vehicles in the New Zealand motor vehicle fleet.
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
  • Most monitoring sites for nitrogen dioxide met the annual average NO guideline in 2013 (118 out of 122 sites).
  • 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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