This year, World Environment Day (5 June) is about raising awareness of air pollution. Learn how polluted air affects Aucklanders, and how to do your bit in reducing it.
Late last year, the Ministry for the Environment in association with Stats NZ released the Our Air report. In the broad strokes, the report was positive, showing that New Zealand enjoys good overall air quality with progress made in reducing the levels of some pollutants.
However, as we head into the winter months, there’s an increase in air pollution risk from the two biggest contributors – wood-burning stoves used for heating, and private vehicles, which we take to in greater numbers as the weather turns cold and wet.
In Queen St, which is further away from the air-clearing harbour winds, and lined with tall buildings, concentrations of fine-particle black carbon can reach levels twice that of American and European cities, and three times that of Canadian cities, according to an Auckland Council report.
To do your bit in keeping down air pollution levels in our city, and protect yourself from its effects, we’ve pulled together five straightforward tips.
1. Drive less Private cars are a major source air pollution in our cities, and the largest contributor to nitrogen oxide levels. If you can walk, scoot or cycle a journey instead of taking the car, or catch the train, bus (particularly electric ones), or carpool, you’ll be helping lower air pollution levels.
2. Have your car serviced regularly If you do need to drive, make sure your car is regularly service to reduce particle and gas emissions in your exhaust fumes.
3. Choose cleaner heating sources Home wood-burning is the main source of air pollution in New Zealand, accounting for heating in 33 percent of North Island homes and 47 percent in South Island homes. Heat pumps are a great electrical alternative, or look to install wood pellet burners or ultra-low emission burners. When burning wood, make sure it’s properly seasoned (dried) for at least six months before use.
4. Don’t burn outside Outside braziers and garden waste fires contribute to air pollution. Never burn plastic or treated wood at home.
5. Stay informed The Air Quality Index website gives you up-to-date information on the particulate levels in the air each day. On the morning that we checked readings (Wednesday 5 June), Auckland ranged from 12 in Henderson (Good) to 82 in Patumahoe near the airport (moderate). Further down the country, Wellington hovered mostly in the 70s (moderate) and the high was 136 in Geraldine (unhealthy for sensitive groups). At times of high wood-burner usage, these figures increase.