Our Air Is (Was) Foul


So why are we encouraging more travel by motor vehicle when report after report paints Auckland’s air as polluted?

The World Health organisation has found Auckland’s air pollution twice as bad as Sydney and our main centres the worst in Australasia.

The World Health Organisation list highlights the global need to reduce outdoor air pollution, which is estimated to cause 1.34 million premature deaths each year.

The list, which relies on country-reported data over the past several years, measures the levels of airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers - so-called PM10s - for almost 1,100 cities.

WHO recommends an upper limit of 20 micrograms for PM10s, which can cause serious respiratory problems in humans. They are mostly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from power plants, auto exhausts and industry.

Initially WHO said Auckland has 23, Hamilton 22 and Wellington 21. Now it has reduced it to 15.

Cities in Iran, India, Pakistan and the capital of Mongolia are the worst.

Smoggy Auckland

Nevertheless I argue the air should be better than it is. Walk or cycle around the CBD and it feels foul especially from the diesel buses.

Back in July, Auckland Council’s Environment and Sustainability Forum was told that levels of particulate matter in Auckland’s air regularly exceeded standards and guideline, including the government’s National Environmental Standards.

A report made it clear that the air in Auckland is impacting on the health of its residents.

The health costs of particulate pollution levels in Auckland are estimated to cause over 700 premature deaths per year and 1.16 million days being lost due to resulting illness or poor health.

The report, from the Council’s Kristen Webster, Principal Specialist Air Quality, repeats the sometimes disputed claim that Auckland has the one of the largest per capita ownership rates of private vehicles in the world with approximately 744,0000 motor vehicles registered in the Auckland region. Our per capita emissions are also therefore very high.

The Government’s solution is to keep building motorways.




  1. Simon says:

    A *world* of LOL!
    Try living in London, where on even the clearest of sunny days, the entire sky to about 30 degees above the horizon, is brown.
    Auckland has little to worry about.

  2. DanC says:

    Deaths, respiratory illness, pollution, bad international publicity… If the government turned around and built a much needed electric public transport system like this;


    with a timed ferry (connection at Mangere Bridge, Onewa road & the Tamaki Estuary) and low emission buses feeding out then what a government we would have! (And a world class city like the council and Aucklanders want) To build new roads is not right.

  3. Jon C says:

    @Simon You could say try living in Beijing or the Mongolian capital which was found to have an annual average PM10s density of 279 micrograms per cubic metre.
    The fact it’s not good enough or acceptable that Auckland’s is deteriorating. It does not need to be.

  4. Patrick R says:

    Don’t worry Steven has asked Nick and Nick says that these funny foreigners aren’t to be trusted, the air’s just great here, how dare they?, phew, that’s a relief. Aren’t we lucky we’ve got such great leaders. Just a couple of days ago John said the NZ economy going to be fine cos’ Bill told him so. They’re so smart and they have such a great broad view of everything. So reassuring. Breath easy Auckland and make room for more motorways- the gov asked itself and says that’s they way forward for the 21st century!

  5. Ingolfson says:

    @Simon - being better than the worst person in class (while getting worse) is not exactly something to be proud of.

  6. Mark says:

    Thsi will just be based on usual ARC type junk science. They used to base all their extrapolated figures for “deaths from pollution” on the Kyber pass intersection ie if you stood there for 24hrs a day, that is what you would breath in! They even admitted that to me.

    So this will depend on what monitoring stations were used, did they actually represent the city - eg where we live and move about. Anyone can pick teh worst spot and say that’s Auckland’s pollution - but clearly it’s not. Also it’s unhelpful for public transport as they picked one of the most busy bus routes!

  7. Chris says:

    At least there is a positive - the smog will increase the winter temperatures. When I was in Beijing it was snowing and I could walk around with just a tshirt on.

  8. George D says:

    Mark, they use sampling sites from around the urban region.

  9. Jon C says:

    As someone who does a lot of walking, the air is getting worse.
    I stopped cycling in peak traffic because I hate breathing in such stuff.
    Diesel buses don’t help either.
    Let’s not buy into the belief it is just monitoring at Khyber Pass which is a known bad area.
    Look at Auckland some days from high and it’s not the pretty sight it was.
    We can put our head in the sand like the environment minister and pretend we are not as bad as London or China but we are a small island nation that should have fresh air and clean beaches. Both those have turned for the worst and we are feeding it by encouraging vehicle sales and easier ways for people to use their cars.

  10. Anthony says:

    The air in Timaru this winter made me go to the hospital six times this July, I had just about enough of walking around my school in a choking yellow haze.

  11. Geoff Houtman says:

    It’s odd- there’s always a lot of talk about reducing the air pollution, but zero action.
    Does anyone remember 0800 SMOKEY?
    It was closed because it was “too successful” according to Council.
    Might need to send them a dictionary. “Successful” would mean there is no air pollution.
    Electric trams drive through so many pictures in the new plans you’d think they were being seriously considered.
    They don’t seem to be. Maybe it comes in the same “computer architecture” package as nikau palms and people leaning casually.
    I imagine (hope) many readers here will be submitting on the current plan-avalanche; could you suggest re-introducing 0800 SMOKEY? (and Trams if you’re a fan…)

  12. Ingolfson says:

    Geoff, don’t kick the COUNCIL. They are serious about rail, light rail and busways. The minister isn’t.

    What is Auckland going to do, when transport funding in NZ comes (depending on project) between 50% and 75% from national government? The tax system is not in Len Brown’s ability to change.

    The people stopping Auckland from getting cleaner air are sitting in Wellington, not in the Queen Street Town Hall.

  13. Mark says:

    @George / @Jon
    http://www.arc.govt.nz/albany/app_templates/behaviours/ARCpopupImage.cfm?file_uuid=82430ABE-14C2-3D2D-B9AB-47D1F7DEFB29&caption=PM10 Annual Averages

    they used 11 sites - mostly arterials from what I can see. Obviously Kyber - but also Queen St, Penrose os Gt Sth road , Kinglans was Sandringham Rd, and I supect others are arterial road based. Interesting these fine particals dropping since mid 90′s.

    My point is you can’t extrapolate from those over the region.

    I’m not saying it shouldn’t be looked at - and for example Queen St valley shouldn’t allow any older buses. But base it on real science, not agenda driven. Because once people distrust the science, they’ll do nothing.

    Better to have a proper evaluation - there are only limited resources - and Council has just cut 40m pa off storm-water. Where should the money go? You could upgrade the entire bus fleet to help a few hot spots or you could put $100m into stormwater overflows into the harbour - but you need good facts on both to make vaild decisions.

  14. Matt L says:

    Well it looks like the WHO have now changed their figures for NZ to the ones the government have claimed


  15. Ben says:

    And cue the Govt challenge to the report as per expected http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/govt-challenges-report-new-zealand-s-bad-air-4424509

    And back round in circles we go

  16. richard says:

    We need Warrant of Fitness emission tests and roadside spot checks immediately.

    Looking for smoke is not good enough - most of the worst gases are invisible

    It’s going to cost the motorist but our health is worth more than the motorists bank balance.

  17. Matt says:

    The real problem is woodburners. New Zealand towns and cities are dreadfully polluted. And poor Anthony in Timaru above is only to be expected. Timaru is the most polluted city in New Zealand.

    I had to move away from Raumati South because of woodburners, and I then had to move away from Te Horo because of rural burning off (and an incompetent KCDC). I have another blog - http://cleanairkapiti.wordpress.com/ I now know of 5 homeowners selling up in Kapiti due to the pollution over the last 18 months.

    We need a complete ban on the installation and use of woodburners. And the so called “clean” woodburners aren’t clean at all. In the real world they are just as dirty as the dirty ones, becasue the wood isn’t dry, they’re not rocket scientists using them, and the home isn’t the same as a laboratory (plus the ventilation holes have been found to not be the same size as when they were tested, because the vent holes on the “clean” models give a rubbish amount of heat - and yes that is manufacturer’s fraud)

    I have hope that with the electrification of the rail network, and with the upcoming electrification of the car fleet particulate levels due to vehicles is going to go down. But vehicular particulates are only a small part of the problem.

    How are we effectively going to deal with the real cause of the bulk of the air pollution? I can think of no fairer and more efficient way than complete prohibition on woodburners.

    In terms of deaths caused by particulates, out of the 50 US states California has the highest per capita (there largely due to vehicle exhausts), but if New Zealand was an American state it would be number 1 out of 51 for deaths by particulates. Woodheaters.

    Nick Smith should resign. He isn’t making the situation better, and instead has weakened upcoming laws by delaying their introduction. 1100 New Zealanders are dying every year from particulates. He has a lot of blood on his hands.

  18. Geoff Houtman says:

    Ingolfson- I would stop kicking the Council if I could think of a SINGLE thing they’ve done to reduce vehicle emissions. We have repeatedly asked for 0800 SMOKEY back, “no idling” bylaws and less diesel buses. The result, nothing, nothing, MORE diesel buses.
    Let’s have this conversation again in January. If they’ve done something I’ll apologise. Until then- the squeaky wheel gets the grease…

  19. Geoff says:

    The WHO figures for NZ were all wrong, and have now been amended.

    Auckland is now PM15, not PM23, so is within WHO standards.

  20. Patrick R says:

    But GH, isn’t the Golfman right? isn’t this the government’s job? Or do you see the world like the provincial minded current ministers: money and power goes to WGTN and all responsibility lies with the Auckland Council?

    Why isn’t there emissions testing as part of the WOF process and better standards- surely that’s the best way, buses need warrants too. Oh and a real 21st century transport policy…. not only investing in the worst possible mode for the future of our city.

  21. Jon C says:

    Amazing how clean the Auckland air smells this morning.
    Thanks WHO for setting it back to acceptable limits.
    Steven, you can now go ahead and build more motorways. Scare over.

  22. Mark says:

    @Jon C - aah westerly must be blowing again:)

  23. Matt says:

    There isn’t much monitoring going on (and a lack of monitoring in most communities is masking real compliance issues, and then there is the fact that the “acceptable” limits are far, far too high) , but here’s a link to a summary of the little NZ air polluton data that is collected. It is a pretty graph you can play with. Go on click.


    Yes Auckland is polluted, but you can see that Christchurch is way worse than Auckland and Timaru, Invercargill and towns in Otago are the worst of all. Unless suddenly they have built a new Arrowtown to Alexandra motorway it is woodburners I tell you.

  24. Matt says:

    “WHO recommends an upper limit of 20 micrograms for PM10s, which can cause serious respiratory problems in humans”

    NZ allows with its weak standards up to 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Then it is a 24 hour average and one annual exceedence is excused.

    From the graph Auckland has peaked at over 120 and Christchurch has peaked over 160 and even then they’re the 24 hourly averages and averaging over 24 hours can mask peaks. The most pollution is between 6 and 10pm when woodburners are all being lit. (And the standards on emissions of woodburners do not apply for the first half hour after being lit, and they are hugely polluting when first lit)

    With the limited monitoring and the use of averages to present the data that they do collect we are being exposed to way, way more pollution than they are telling us.

  25. Geoff Houtman says:

    Patrick- It’s Council and Central Govt both. Don’t worry, I complain to both of them equally!
    Central will have to make the law, but it will be enforced locally (all government being ultimately local).
    However the Council can make bylaws…
    You’re right of course emission standards should be tougher, and checked, and we shouldn’t be importing diesel cars.
    Re Wellington- no. Hell no, even fuck no. Hence the “Auckland Party” idea. You in?

  26. Patrick R says:

    GH i ain’t a joiner I’m afraid, like you I like to be able to hold them all to account. Anyway I don’t want an AK party I just want our NZ parties to treat us fairly, which means in ways proportional to AK’s size and place in NZ, and specific to what AK needs. And that means understanding that this is a city and not just some larger provincial town.

    I would have the same moan if I was in the countryside and some urban party was trying to run me from their citidel.

    But that’s not what we’ve got; we’ve got a bunch of provincial minded hicks who only consult each other and their like minded mates- and then happily profit from the decisions. Visionless, dreary, and impoverishing.

  27. Ingolfson says:

    “(all government being ultimately local)”

    Tell that to our Rugby Minister who takes away Auckland’s right to hold our events because a measly 3-4% of people were late for a game.

    Tell that to the guys who sacked the elected councillors of Environment Canterbury, because they didn’t give their farmer mates the water rights they wanted.

    Tell that to CERA, who can rule Christchurch with almost dictatorial powers if they want to.

    Tell that to the minister who decides to plow up large swathes of our region for new motorways, no matter what we want ourselves.

    Tell that to a government who seriously suggested - in their own draft discussion document - that National Government should have veto power over the Auckland Spatial Plan.

    Tell that to a goverment who talks of Auckland having to step up and fund their own things (despite a tax system massively skewed towards Wellington) but then yanks away the regional fuel tax for our trains and waits over a year before replacing it with a whole bundle of more constrained funding.

    Government in NZ is highly centralised. Local doesn’t figure all that heavily.

  28. Geoff Houtman says:


    Sounds like you’re a potential “Auckland Party” voter…


    West Lynn St party was very cool, loads of locals, fire dancers, synchronised cyclists.
    Word is- be very wary of the gingerbread and custard stand.

  29. Ingolfson says:

    Not really - I am pretty happy with the Greens.

    They are a bit of sanity and issues-based policy in this deluge of “see no evil” media spin from government, underpinned by their “let’s drive this ambulance OFF the cliff” policies.


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