Good air quality is central to human health and the health of our environment. New Zealand has relatively good air quality, however at certain times of the year some areas have undesirable levels of air pollution. This topic presents the results of regional air quality monitoring, why it is important, and tips for how we can help improve the quality of the air we breathe.
The National Picture tab provides an overview of air quality monitoring in New Zealand. Desktop and tablet users can view air quality results for different indicators on the interactive map.
Click on the Regions tab to find information about air quality at towns in each region. Here you can discover the causes of local air pollution, and explore current and historical monitoring results.
Want more to learn more? Find our factsheet and glossary section here.
The most recent data shown on the LAWA map may not have been validated by the councils collecting these data. Please interpret these data with care and check with the responsible regional council or unitary authority if you have questions. Air quality data on LAWA are reported on using New Zealand's National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NES-AQ), World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines 2005 and New Zealand Ambient Air Quality Guidelines 2002. Amendments to the NES-AQ, which inform reporting requirements are pending. Plans to update LAWA to report against WHO 2021 Guidelines are underway.
6 July 2022
Breathing good quality air is fundamental to our well-being. The health effects of polluted air are wide-ranging and mainly affect the elderly, young people, and vulnerable groups. Good air quality is also important for ecosystem health.
To help look after air quality in New Zealand, outdoor air is monitored for a range of air pollutants by regional councils and unitary authorities. Long-term monitoring stations are set up at various locations to track air pollutants generated from different activities (e.g. residential, industrial, traffic). These monitoring locations are often in areas that are known, or suspected, to have poor air quality.
LAWA shows air quality information from around 70 active and 75 inactive monitoring sites at towns and cities throughout New Zealand.
The data help scientists and decision-makers evaluate the state of air quality, identify what are the main contributors to poor air quality, and how this is changing over time. This informs the policies and actions required to improve air quality in areas with poor air quality.
The air pollutant of most concern in many parts of New Zealand is particulate matter (PM). PM are airborne particles that are both naturally occurring (e.g. windblown dust, pollen and sea salt) and produced by human activities (e.g. burning of fuels). The size of PM plays an important role in the impacts on our health. Coarse and fine sized particles less than 10 micrometers (µm) in diameter (tracked by measuring PM10) can enter our airways. The fine sized particles under 2.5 µm (PM2.5) can go further and lodge deep into our lungs.
New Zealand has relatively good air quality due to its low population density and island geography. However, in colder parts of the country, many people are exposed to relatively high levels of PM in winter produced by wood and coal burning for home heating. In these areas the levels of PM can exceed air quality standards or guidelines. This is usually associated with still winter days where there is no wind to disperse the PM.
During 2021, health guidelines for daily average PM concentrations were exceeded in about 20 monitored towns, with the most exceedances in towns occurring in Milton, Cromwell, Arrowtown, Timaru, Kaiapoi, Rangiora, Blenheim, Richmond, Nelson, Masterton, Taupo, Gisborne, Te Kuiti and Tokoroa.
The majority of towns monitored are showing signs of improved air quality over the last ten years or longer. Most of the towns with no trends evident rarely exceed the daily PM10 guideline, however there are a few towns with daily PM10 exceedances where a trend could not be determined. About 20% of the towns haven’t had monitoring stations at the same site for long enough to determine 10-year trends. When an exceedance occurs, councils publicly notify this and work towards improving the air quality.
PM10 is the most commonly monitored air quality indicator. It tells us about the particulate matter in the air from both the coarser size particles (ranging from 2.5 – 10 µm in size) through to the smaller fine particles (PM2.5, with a diameter of 2.5 µm or less).
PM2.5 are generated by combustion (e.g. burning wood, coal, petrol or diesel) and are more harmful to our health. The ability to measure specifically for PM2.5 enables us to understand more about which areas pose a higher health risk compared to when measuring PM10 alone. At sites that monitor for both PM10 and PM2.5, results show that PM2.5 concentrations frequently make up a large proportion of the PM10 concentrations. The PM2.5 guidelines shown on LAWA are from the World Health Organization 2005 which are set at half that for PM10. Updated guidelines from the World Health Organization in late 2021 are lower still, recognising that there are health impacts at lower concentrations. This means that for many areas, there are more PM2.5 exceedances in a year compared to that for PM10. We expect PM2.5 will be monitored at more sites, and displayed on LAWA, when PM2.5 is added to New Zealand’s air quality standards.
While PM is the most commonly monitored pollutant in New Zealand as it exceeds health guidelines, there are a number of gas contaminants that are also monitored, but exceed health guidelines less often. These include sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and benzene, which are monitored by some councils at mainly city sites in New Zealand.
The Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand provide a national picture of the environment in regular reports produced under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015. The Our air 2021: final release report was published on 10 December 2021.
The HAPINZ 3.0 report was released by Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport, and Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) on 6 July 2022. HAPINZ 3.0 represents the latest update of this report series and assesses the air pollution health effects experienced by New Zealanders for 2016.
In a significant finding, of the more than 3,300 deaths associated with anthropogenic air pollution, more than 60% were associated with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution –largely from motor vehicles – while the other 40% were associated with fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution – largely from home wood burning. The report acknowledged the overall improvements in particulate matter concentrations and the increase in regional and unitary council monitoring of PM since the previous HAPINZ 2.0 report.
The LAWA Air Quality National Picture Summary 2022 was released on 3 June 2022 and was based on best available information at the time. Another LAWA Air Quality topic update is planned before the end of 2022 to respond to not only the new HAPINZ 3.0 report, but also updated guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO). Watch this space!
We all have a role to play in the quality of our air: