This page provides information on sources of hazardous air pollutants and their effects on health. It includes usual levels in New Zealand and guideline values to protect human health.
This page has not yet been updated to reflect changes as a result of Our air 2018 report.
There are many potentially hazardous air pollutants including:
|dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)||xylene||mercury|
|polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)||styrene||arsenic|
Hazardous air pollutants are released from activities such as:
|burning waste (including plastics, medical and hazardous waste)||smoking||using solvent base paints|| |
|landfill fires||spray painting||fibreglass manufacture||particle board mills||application of agrichemicals|
|burning wood or coal for home heating||synthetic rubber manufacture||adhesive manufacture|
Effects on health
Hazardous air pollutants can affect human health in a number of ways including skin, throat and eye irritation, headaches, nerve and organ damage, and increased risk of cancers and premature death.
This usually happens when the pollutants are breathed in over long periods of time as they can accumulate in our bodies. However some hazardous air pollutants can have a more immediate effect.
The Ambient air quality guidelines: 2002 update includes more information on the health effects of each pollutant.
Guideline values to protect health
The New Zealand guideline values for nine priority hazardous air pollutants are:
|Contaminant||Guideline value||Averaging time|
|Benzene (year 2002)||10 µg/m3||Annual|
|Benzene (year 2010)||3.6 µg/m3||Annual|
|Formaldehyde||100 µg/m3||30 minutes|
|Mercury (inorganic)||0.33 µg/m3||Annual|
|Mercury (organic)||0.13 µg/m3||Annual|
|Chromium VI||0.0011 µg/m3||Annual|
|Chromium metal and chromium III||0.11 µg/m3||Annual|
|Arsenic (inorganic)||0.0055 µg/m3||Annual|
|Lead||0.2 µg/m3||3 month moving average|
See the Ambient air quality guidelines: 2002 update for further information on the application and intended use of the guideline values.
Hazardous air pollutants released into the air during spraying of agrichemicals in orchards can be hazardous if the spraying is not done correctly.
Usual levels in New Zealand
Research and monitoring shows that hazardous air pollutant levels in New Zealand are generally low. However, there are some places where levels do pose a risk to human health. Further monitoring is needed to fully understand the effects of hazardous air pollutants on New Zealanders and our environment.
For more information on levels of some hazardous air pollutants see Environment Aotearoa 2015.
Your local regional or unitary council may also have further information [Department of Internal Affairs website]
Areas where hazardous air pollutants may affect health
|urban areas where there are high concentrations of domestic fires or traffic|