Air pollution causes hundreds of deaths in Auckland per year and causes more than $200 million worth of social damage, a new report claims.
Auckland's air quality is so bad that in the past two months it exceeded the Government's National Environmental Standard once and on five other occasions exceeded Auckland's Regional Air Quality targets.
These adversely high-level readings occurred on June 14, 15 and on July 9 and 10.
A report given to Auckland Council last month said air pollution was responsible for 200 premature deaths a year and exposure to transport emissions had a social cost of $273m. In July last year a council report estimated that air pollution killed 700 Aucklanders annually.
Councillor Wayne Walker, chairman of Auckland Council's Environment and Sustainability Forum, believes that too many old cars and the lack of a mandatory emissions testing procedure for vehicles has accelerated health problems in the city.
There are an estimated 750,000 vehicles in Auckland, a number that increases by five per cent annually.
Walker said while the council had ideas about combating the problem, the Government was ultimately responsible for setting targets on vehicle emissions.
On June 29 the Government released a discussion document outlining changes to emissions rules. The current legislation expires in January 2013 for used vehicles and January 2015 for new vehicles.
"There are far too many 1995 and 1996 (model) vehicles on our roads and that is not good for our air quality. I would like to see the introduction of [mandatory emission testing]. The other thing this council could do is to part-finance a free phone number which people could ring if they see a vehicle in a bad way which is pumping out pollutants," Walker said.
"For me it is a priority shift; if you don't have good air you don't have good health and people are dying every week, while large numbers of other people are suffering from serious respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchial illnesses. All of these are linked.
"I take this very seriously and I am urging the council to take a strong position on this issue. At this point I don't think we're taking a strong enough stance on it."
A range of pollutants and particles in the air from oil, petrol, diesel and other fuels can have a serious adverse effect on health. It's estimated Aucklanders breathe in 11,000 litres of air each, every day.
Motor vehicles and domestic fires are considered the two largest sources of air pollution in Auckland.
Walker wants household wood fires to be phased out from urban areas and replaced by wood burners.
He said the levels of particulates (PM10) in the air vary considerably in summer and winter but are at their highest when Aucklanders are using wood fires.
"In summer we have measured 5.3 tonnes of particulates per day but in winter this can increase up to as much as 18.4 tonnes of PM10."
Auckland Council Air Quality Technical Specialist Janet Petersen said the use of domestic fires for home heating was probably the reason for June and July's high readings.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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