The LAWA Air Quality National Picture Summary 2021 released today confirms air quality in New Zealand towns is generally good and has improved over the past 15 years, however it highlights there are still unacceptable levels of winter air pollution in some places across the country.
LAWA Air Quality Science Lead and Environment Canterbury Air Quality Analyst Teresa Aberkane said there is a pattern of winter exceedances of harmful particulate matter (PM) concentrations in monitored places where locals rely on burning wood or coal to heat their homes.
“Today’s release of the LAWA Air Quality National Picture Summary is timely as we are seeing the effects of cooler, calmer weather conditions combined with smoke from home wood burning resulting in exceedances of guidelines for PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations in some New Zealand towns,” said Ms Aberkane.
To generate the National Picture Summary, Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) project scientists looked at air quality data collected by regional councils and unitary authorities as part of their long-term monitoring programmes covering around 75 active sites in towns and urban centres.
LAWA presents monitoring results for PM10 (particles smaller than 10 microns) in line with the New Zealand National Environmental Standards and reports PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 microns) results against World Health Organization (WHO) standards for towns where this data is available.
“Looking at the PM10 levels in our air and how much is made up of smaller PM2.5 helps us understand potential health and environmental impacts and where the pollution is coming from. Breathing PM2.5 polluted air is associated with poorer health outcomes and these fine particles tend to come from burning wood, coal, or diesel,” said Ms Aberkane.
Alongside the National Picture Summary for Air Quality, LAWA has released a series of upgrades to the LAWA Air Quality website topic to make monitoring results collected by regional councils and unitary authorities more accessible.
The upgrades include an interactive desktop map that can be filtered to show how yesterday’s air quality and annual air quality in New Zealand towns measure up as well as an exceedance counter on site pages.
LAWA Project Chair Dr Tim Davie explained air quality is closely linked to human and ecosystem health, so it is important to understand pollution sources and continue to work towards improvements.
“We’ve made a number of upgrades to the LAWA air quality topic so people can see what air quality is like in their town at a glance and better understand the sources of air pollution, the effects of different interventions, and the role of weather and landscape,” said Dr Davie.
“Over the years, regional councils and unitary authorities have worked with communities affected by air pollution to bring about improvements. In places like Christchurch and Nelson, long-term PM10 monitoring results show how a place can go from over 40 exceedances a year, to few or none thanks to communities embracing changes in heating led by council education and incentive programmes backing up rules to control sources of air pollution.”
“Data collection, analysis, and reporting underpins these positive outcomes and LAWA is striving to make more environmental data open and accessible,” said Dr Davie.
Snow-capped mountains on a clear winter day.