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Deaths rise from our air pollution


Smoke billowing out of a Masterton chimney during the first day of snow on the ranges this year. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR


Air pollution-related deaths are on the rise with 39 deaths recorded in Wairarapa in 2016, a new report has revealed.

A map produced by HAPINZ showed there were 29 air pollution-related deaths in Masterton in 2016, five deaths in Carterton, and a further five recorded in South Wairarapa.

The number of deaths increased from a total of 34 across the region in 2006.

Air pollution carries a health cost of $138 million to Masterton, $22 million to Carterton, and $25 million to South Wairarapa.

A recent report by HAPINZ said New Zealand had good air quality in most places, most of the time.

“However, exhaust emissions from vehicles and solid fuel [wood and coal] used for domestic heating combine to produce unacceptable air quality in some locations, particularly in winter.”

Across the nation, air pollution has caused the premature deaths of more than 3,300 adults in 2016.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said air quality was a very serious issue, but the community could make a difference if we changed our behaviour.

“The council has long encouraged people to “burn better” using wood that is dry – and not burning material that produces more damaging toxins.”

She said the report highlighted how timely the council’s consultation on its draft climate action plan was.

Patterson said the action plan sets out 118 actions to address climate change and the impact of harmful emissions, including those to the air from fires and motor vehicles.

“I strongly encourage people to read the draft and have their say on the actions proposed – submissions close on August 1.”

The report said, also in 2016, air pollution caused over 13,100 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses, including 845 asthma hospitalisations for children.

It said there were 13,200 cases of childhood asthma reported in 2016 alone.

Household fires were largely to blame for the pollution, taking up 74 per cent, other causes were motor vehicles at 17 per cent, windblown dust at 8 per cent, and industry at 0.1 per cent.

Fine particle matter [known as PM2.5] air pollution held a health cost to the nation of $6.1 billion.

All nitrogen dioxide pollution came from motor vehicles and costs $9.5 billion in related healthcare.

The most recent Greater Wellington Regional Council air quality data showed Masterton’s reached a high of 22.9 parts per million [ppm] in July.

“In Masterton PM10 and PM2.5 levels are highest during winter evenings when people are using fires for home heating and when weather conditions are cold, there is little wind and skies are cloudless.”

It said levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are indicators of traffic emissions, are low.

Other sources of PM10 and PM2.5 emissions are traffic, industrial and commercial processes, and natural sources.

Associate Environment Minister Phil Twyford said the report provided evidence of why the nation needed policies like the clean car discount which recently saw a record number of electric and hybrids registered in its first year.

He said other efforts to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions included removing coal boilers from schools and reform to the Resource Management Act [RMA] that is set to prescribe limits on air pollution.

“In New Zealand, our environment is at the heart of who we are as a country. Having clean water, oceans, and air protects the health of all New Zealanders, while also sustaining our economy.”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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