Are Auckland Vehicle Pollutants Killing Us?


There are 35 new vehicles coming onto Auckland roads every day.

And as noted from the ARC state of Auckland report the other day, Aucklanders are driving more and in vehicles with higher horsepower.

If it wasn’t for all of that - and the 17% of Auckland vehicles with bad emissions, our air we breath may actually be stabilised or improving.

On a sunny day....

I thought, a few years ago, greatly reducing use of my car and instead using public transport or other means was one way to help.

But as a fit healthy person who cycles and walks a lot, I was staggered to then get an out-of-the-blue mysterious diagnosis of developing asthma symptoms.

So I take special interest in the condition of Auckland’s air.
But after getting the doctor’s diagnosis, I have wondered if breathing lots of that air is actually killing us.
Fortunately, my lifestyle hasn’t been greatly affected as I am healthy but the only explanation the doctors could give was that maybe the cause is  ”in the air or in the food we are eating.” And he took special note of the way I walk around a lot more in the open than when I drove my car a lot causing this pollution. It seems unfair.

My doctor said he was very concerned at the numbers of otherwise healthy people like me suddenly developing asthma without clear lifestyle reasons why.

One in six adult New Zealanders and 27 per cent of six to seven year olds suffer from asthma.

Fine particulates and NO 2 are not a proven cause of asthma but are known to be an irritant for people with asthma, which leads to an increased likelihood and severity of asthma attacks. (NO and NO 2 are together referred to as nitrogen oxides (NOx). Nitrogen oxides are formed by the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). Motor vehicles are a large source of NO x in urban areas, mostly emitted as NO with some NO2. NO 2 can irritate the lungs and increase susceptibility to, and severity of, asthma and lower resistance to infections such as influenza. Long-term exposure to low levels of NO 2 can 3the years. As a result, the average NO2 concentrations have not shown significant changes within the Auckland region)

So what’s the state of the Auckland air -and vehicles’ contribution to it?

The ARC report says the good news is that air quality in the Auckland region is generally good in comparison to many cities in the world. As we suspect, motor vehicles are the main cause of the air pollution problem in the Auckland region.

Here are the trends:

  • Annual average ozone levels have changed little over the past ten years.
  • However, there is continuing evidence of photochemical reactions occurring in the region and elevated levels of ozone could occur during summer, leading to exceedences of the standards and guidelines.
  • Vehicle technology has improved significantly over the years.
  • Exhaust emissions standards have been introduced recently for new and used vehicles entering New Zealand and these standards get progressively tighter over time. As a result, there has been a gradual reduction in the concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulates emitted from motor vehicles.
  • 10 per cent of vehicles create 50 per cent of the air pollution
  • Diesel vehicles produce higher emissions of smoke,  but petrol vehicles are worse for NO and CO emissions
  • Around half of the cars on Auckland’s roads are over 12 years old, with less efficient fuel and emission ratings than newer cars
  • Japanese used imports generally discharge less pollution than New Zealand new vehicles of the same age.
  • However, the improvements in air pollution that have resulted from better fuel, new vehicle technology and tighter emissions standards have now been offset by the growth in vehicle numbers, kilometres travelled and the ageing vehicle fleet.

And that’s the crunch.

There are also especially troublesome areas like Queen St and Khyber Pass. Auckland’s measured NO2 concentrations at peak traffic sites exceed the standards and guidelines. levels in the morning and high particulate levels at night. Sites like Khyber have similar traffic levels and pollutant emission levels through the day, although concentrations are usually lower at midday because there is more wind.

So as Auckland’s population jumps and people buy more cars and travel more, despite the popularity of public transport, we can only expect the pollution to get worse, despite the otherwise encouraging signs that it should be getting better or at least no worse than it is today.




  1. rtc says:

    What’s depressing in NZ is that these sorts of reports are not even taken into account when Joyce merrily cuts PT funding and rams through a bunch of new motorways….

  2. Chris says:

    Yes - this has to be sent to Stephen Joyce, Tony Ryall and John Key.

    Is the cost of improving the roading network actually increasing the cost to the Government in unbudgeted expenditure.

    I work from home (so I’m not subject to very close contact with NO2) and I’ve noticed that my asthma (I’m 60) and my daughter’s asthma (she’s 8), both previously almost gone, are coming back to the point where we need reliever puffers every day.

  3. Richard says:

    About twenty years ago I cycled to work 2-3 days a week from Glenfield to the central city via Greenhithe and Henderson (There was no NW Motorway cycle lane then). From Henderson to the City traffic built up and I was concerned about the pollution so I spoke to my Doc. He was a sports medicine doctor and said I was probably more at risk walking down Queen Street at lunch time than cycling!

    An interesting point is that whilst in a car you do not get the direct puff/smell of exhaust fumes you do walking/ cycling BUT IT”S THERE. The car air intakes are almost in line with the exhaust pipe of the car ahead so you are sucking it in……..:-(

    The car not only creates it but is the worst place to be in it by all accounts.

    We need to limit cars in the city NOW and make proper emission tests mandatory for ALL vehicles in a Warrant of Fitness NOW….NO EXCEPTIONS NO EXCUSES.

  4. max says:

    I agree with Richard. Jon, have a look at what I’ll send you by mail - it shows that any concerns about walking more being less healthy are bollocks (scientifically researched in Sydney, to boot, so quite comparable to Auckland).

    Basically, cyclists and walkers were in the middle range of several transport groups in terms of exposure to pollutants. Train users were exposed to the least amount of pollutants. Car drivers to the MOST.

    So while the cars of Auckland may indeed be guilty of causing your asthma, Jon, walking is unlikely to make it worse!

  5. Jon C says:

    @Thanks Max, appreciate that.
    Dont worry - hasnt changed my choices.
    My car remains barely used!

  6. Nick M says:

    Does anyone remember 0800 SMOKEY? Maybe we need that sort of campaign back in action.

  7. Jeremy Harris says:

    Yes it is definitely killing us, 400 of us a year at a cost to the economy of $560 million…


Leave a Comment


XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>