The health effects associated with PM10 represent the major health impacts of air pollution in New Zealand. Other health impacts may exist, but knowledge of the risks, and information on exposure levels, are not enough for us to make reliable estimates.
We intend to examine the national significance of other health impacts, as well as economic (eg medical costs and lost work days) and ecological effects (eg pollution of waterways) for future environmental reporting. We will consult, assess, and advise ministers and councils on the costs and benefits of improving this information.
See improving environmental reporting data web page for more information.
Impacts on atmosphere and climate
Air pollution and the state of our atmosphere and climate affect each other in many ways. Air pollution can affect the atmosphere and climate directly through the warming and cooling properties of pollutants. Indirectly, air pollution can change rainfall and the reflectivity and distribution of clouds.
Particulate matter and ground-level ozone are two of many air pollutants that affect our atmosphere and climate. Some particulate matter have a cooling effect (such as sulphates and nitrates) by reflecting sunlight. Others (such as black carbon – a component of soot particles) have a warming effect by absorbing sunlight. Research has identified black carbon as the second-most important human emission in terms of its potential to change our climate (Bond et al, 2013).
Ozone absorbs some of the infrared energy emitted by the earth and creates warming effects in its immediate surroundings. Ozone also reduces vegetation’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – an important global warming gas.
While the above information demonstrates an impact, the level of the impact New Zealand’s air pollution has on our, and the global, atmosphere and climate is unknown.
Poor visibility occurs when sunlight encounters tiny pollution particles in the air (particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and aerosols), reducing the clarity and colour of what we see. Sources of this pollution include burning of wood or coal for home heating, transport emissions, industrial activities, and natural sources (eg sea spray).
Visibility is the most widely perceived measure of air quality. Poor visibility can disrupt transport (due to large-scale events like volcanic eruptions) and can influence people’s perception of air quality and sometimes the activities they engage in. We do not have quantitative measures of the impact of air pollution on visibility.