Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Zealand's Air Not Even Close to 100% Pure Until 2020

Arrowtown village, 27 straight days of smoky winter air in 2009

A number of times in this blog we've talked about supposedly Clean, Green New Zealand's awful air quality, and about how the country is teetering on the edge of being called "third world" for the way in which it failing to deal with this serious health problem.

Did you know that despite NZ's relatively low population and geographic isolation, urban areas in New Zealand suffer poor air quality during winter?

Last year a respiratory specialist in Invercargill linked “terrible increase” in respirable problems in the city to poor air quality, where standards were breached 17 times in 2010 - three times the number of failures in 2009.

Only one breach a year is allowed under the national standards.

The Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) report estimated that each year around 1,100 New Zealanders die prematurely from air pollution with an associated health cost of $1.14 billion.

In May 2009 we wrote about air pollution in New Zealand.  Back then the Ministry of the Environment said that poor air quality was a significant issue in some areas of the country. Two thirds of the population lived in areas that experienced air pollution.

Most of the country’s poor air quality is caused by high winter levels of particulate matter (PM10) from wood and coal used for home heating. Auckland also experiences high levels of PM10 from road transport.

In June 2010 there were 43 airsheds across New Zealand where air quality is monitored, 26 of them don’t meet the PM10 standard.

The non-complying airsheds include Auckland, Christchurch and a number of provincial cities and towns (especially throughout the South Island).

By 2013, it is estimated that 10 airsheds will continue to exceed the PM10 standard with another five airsheds potentially also exceeding the standard. These 15 airsheds represent 45 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

Air quality in parts of NZ are so bad that an announcement was made that the quality standards were to be dropped because the previous standards are “unrealistic” and “unfair”:
The Government wants a standard that achieves material improvements in air quality without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and communities…
“These changes are about improving air quality but in a pragmatic and realistic way “… “The Government wants a standard that achieves material improvements in air quality without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and communities.”
Last year Environment Minister, Nick Smith, admitted that 10 NZ cities and towns are unlikely to meet air quality targets by the year 2013, and  said that the overwhelming proportion of pollution is caused by home fires. 

But despite pollution affecting the health of so many people, and resulting in over a thousand premature deaths every year, it was confirmed today that the quality standards are to be relaxed because the costs of implementing them are greater than the health benefits they will bring:
From Stuff
New Zealand's smoggiest towns and cities have been given more breathing space to achieve strict air quality rules.
Regional councils, which implement the Government's air pollution standards, have had since 2004 to fix smog problems, mainly caused by inefficient woodburners and open fires in winter.
The 10 worst areas in the country, including inland Otago and Timaru, will not clean up the air by the 2013 deadline, so the Government has moved to relax the standards.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said this morning that the health benefits were only slightly reduced by the delay, while the economic costs of implementing them would be significantly lower.
He said that Labour's policy was poorly implemented, unrealistic and unfair.
"New Zealand needs to strike a careful balance between the pace we improve our air quality and the impacts on jobs and household costs," he said today at the annual conference of the National Party's environment wing, the Bluegreens.
The key changes are:
- Areas with moderate pollution will now have to achieve the standard by 2016;
- High pollution areas will have until 2020 to meet the standard, with improvement by 2016;
- Readings corrupted by events like volcanic eruptions and Australian dust storms will not count as breaches..." read more here
The Timaru Herald also reported on the change to the standards, revealing in the process the extent to which Timaru is cursed with poor air quality
Timaru recorded 49 high pollution nights last year, where the levels of particulate matter in the air had exceeded 50 micrograms per cubic metre.
What with the polluted atmosphere, 432% of bathing waters being unsafe to swim in and 20% of New Zealanders having unsafe drinking water there isn't much left that can be called pure in New Zealand.
Perhaps this is why TNZ finally dropped the 100% Pure NZ branding, instead preferring to concentrate on the purity of the person visiting the country.

Let's just hope that visitors don't compromise their own purity by staying in one of the polluted towns in winter, swimming in the contaminated water or drinking water straight from the tap.

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