WHO air quality report in the news

A global update on air quality in cities around the world has shown that most — but not all — New Zealand centres meet international safety standards

image of smokestackThe new database, released yesterday by the WHO covers 1600 cities across 91 countries – 500 more cities than the previous report(2011), revealing that more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting growing recognition of air pollution’s health risks.

At the heart of the database are two measures of pollution, PM10  and PM2.5, representing the amounts of particulate matter per cubic meter that is less than 10 or 2.5 microns in diameter, respectively. Such particulate matter is produced mainly from burning coal, oil, wood and fuel in domestic fires, transportation and industrial processes. High levels of ambient air pollution have been associated with increased risk of lung complications and cancer,

Air quality data from a number of New Zealand cities and towns were included in the updated 2014 database. Lower Hutt and Wainuiomata had the best air quality in the country while Timaru, Christchurch and Rotorua were the worst, with PM10 levels at or above the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines for health safety.

New Zealand cities’ PM10 levels from the WHO database (ug/m3; latest data, 2012)

Auckland 15 Porirua 12
Blenheim 19 Rotorua 20
Christchurch 23 Taupo 13
Dunedin 18 Timaru 28
Hamilton 13 Upper Hutt 10
Hastings 15 Wainuiomata 10
Lower Hutt 10 Wellington 13
Masterton 14 Whangarei 15
Napier 14


“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” said Dr Carlos Dora, Coordinator, Interventions for Healthy Environments, WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Measures include ensuring that houses are energy efficient, that urban development is compact and well served by public transport routes, that street design is appealing and safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and waste is well managed.

The WHO announcement has been widely covered in the New Zealand news: Examples of media coverage include:

MSN NZ: Air quality worsens for Wgtn and Chch
3 News: Wellington, Christchurch air pollution worsens
Stuff.co.nz: New Zealand’s worst air is not where you think
Timaru Herald: Timaru’s air is New Zealand’s worst
Press: Chch has second-worst air in NZ
NZ Herald: 17 NZ centres rank in new global air quality report
TVNZ: Where is NZ’s worst air?
Radio NZ: Small towns, bigger air quality issues
Otago Daily Times: Smaller centres feature in ‘worst air’ list
NewstalkZB: Country’s worst air found in Timaru