Better air quality monitoring needed – PCE

New Zealand air quality is good but could be better, says the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, calling on the government to change the way it measures air quality. 

Haze over Christchurch. Credit: Ross Younger
Haze over Christchurch. Credit: Ross Younger

Commissioner Dr Jan Wright discussed the state of New Zealand’s air quality in her commentary on the Government’s 2014 Air Domain Report, released today.

“The state of our air is generally good, as we would expect in a windswept maritime country with a small population and little heavy industry,” Dr Wright said in a release. “Air quality is poorer in some towns and cities during cold calm days in winter, but, even in these places, air quality is high on most days.”

In her commentary, the Commissioner has recommended a review of the regulation governing the management of New Zealand’s major air pollutant, the tiny airborne particles called particulate matter.

Dr Wright said that the National Environmental Standard for Air Quality should be based on the measurement of smaller particles, specifically those categorised as PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 microns), over longer periods. Current regulations focus on short term fluctuations of the levels of larger (10 micron, PM10) particles in the air.

“The smaller airborne particles are, the greater is the risk to those who inhale them,” states the report. “Similarly, it has been discovered over time that the health impacts of long-term exposure to particulates are much greater at a population level than the impacts of short-term exposure.”

“Thus, there is a strong case for a rule aimed at long-term exposure to fine particles – a limit on the annual average concentration of PM2.5.

The Commissioner’s recommendations have been covered in the media. Examples include:

New Zealand Herald: NZ air quality a ‘good news story’
Yahoo NZ News: Air quality ‘generally good’ , report says
Radio New Zealand: Tougher air quality testing urged Air quality ‘wrong focus’
3 News: New Zealand air quality good – report