Deadly effects of pollution
Man-made air pollution costs Nelson and Tasman more than $100 million each year, including 29 premature deaths, says new research.
The figures are from a statistical tool released with the Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) study.
It used a complex model to assess the effect of fine airborne particles, known as PM10s, caused by woodburners, vehicles and industry on human health.
PM10 particles affect the respiratory system by lodging in upper airways, causing irritation and leading to chronic diseases like lung cancer and hardening of the arteries after long exposure.
The HAPINZ study estimates air pollution is associated with 1079 cases of premature mortality in New Zealand in a year, mostly from domestic heating and vehicle emissions.
In Nelson the report estimated 16 adults die earlier than they otherwise would due to the effects of breathing polluted air from man-made sources.
Using calculations of the value of a statistical life - estimated at $3.56 million - and the cost of hospitalisations and restricted activities caused by pollution, the total cost of air pollution to the Nelson region was $57.2m.
Nelson City Council principal adviser of city development David Jackson said as the modelling data was taken from between 2006 and 2008 it was slightly outdated but still “in the ballpark” of previous estimates.
The improvement in Nelson's air quality is reflected in the performance of Nelson Airshed A, which has its air tested at St Vincent St.
The airshed breached environmental standards for air pollution 51 times in 2006, dropping to 15 last year and one this winter so far.
Dr Jackson said the council had focused on the impact of air pollution on health, as high levels of PM10 particles were a deadly problem.
While there was no safe level, Dr Jackson said the council worked to maintain a “compromise” between getting PM10 levels low enough so that the health effects were acceptable, and allowing people to go about their daily lives.
“Obviously as a tourist town, it's really nice to have clearer air, and we prefer to be known for nice weather than being one of the worst [air pollution areas] in New Zealand.”
In Tasman, the HAPINZ model estimated a total of 13 premature deaths a year from man-made pollution , with a total cost of $45.9m. Hospitalisations and restricted activity costs brought the Tasman total to about $46.7m.
Tasman District Council policy planner Mary-Anne Baker said the Tasman total had come as a shock to her, since the council largely concentrated on data from the problematic Richmond airshed.
Air quality monitoring had been done in Brightwater, Motueka and Wakefield but Richmond was the region's only polluted airshed, producing enough man-made emissions to cost the region $36.7m.
“Things have improved in the interim,” she said. “It's not as the report shows currently.”
Ms Baker said Richmond airshed had gone through a “blip” this winter, with 16 high-pollution nights registered halfway through the cold season.
In comparison, the airshed exceeded accepted levels of PM10 pollution 10 times last year, and seven during 2010. It is a marked improvement from the 35 in 2006.
The council would provide extra information to help people clean up their act, she said. “We're starting to lean on bad behaviour, both in Richmond itself from chimneys and open burning out in the country.”
HAPINZ research team leader Gerda Kuschel said its health effects model had been developed partly to allow regional councils to make their own emissions calculations.
More up-to-date data from local surveys could be fed into the model.
When the team first began the report, Ms Kuschel said they expected new census data to soon be available, but had to compensate after the Christchurch earthquakes forced the last census' cancellation.
She said she knew each region had improved significantly since the data used in the study was first collected in 2006.
The results from the 2004 introduction of national environmental standards might not have been fully apparent until more recently, said Ms Kuschel.
"There's always that lag in how long it takes to get domestic fires replaced, get good wood suppliers, all of that.
- © Fairfax NZ News