100% Pure? Not The Air Of Invercargill

A South Island respiratory specialist Dr Roland Meyer has linked a “terrible increase” in respirable problems in the city of  Invercargill to poor air quality.

Apparently air quality standards have been breached 17 times this year, which is thrice the number of breaches in 2009.

SCOT MACKAY, writing for the Southland times

An alarming rise in air pollution in Invercargill could be behind the “terrible” increase in respirable problems, says a Southland specialist.

Environment Southland figures show air quality in Invercargill has exceeded environmental standards 19 times this year, more than three times the six breaches last year.

Only one breach is allowed under the national standards.

The latest data shows pollutant readings at the council’s Pomona St site recorded a high of 78 micrograms per cubic meter of air, 28 micrograms above the threshold.

Southland Hospital respiratory physician Dr Roland Meyer said there had been a terrible increase in respirable problems in Invercargill this year and although he did not have “hard data” to back that up, he believed they were linked.

“Anecdotal evidence suggest people were worse off on the days that it [the air standard] was breached, but there is no evidence to back that up,” he said….read the full report here

Factors causing air pollution in Invercargill are thought to be linked to the large amount of coal burned (much of it in older homes in south Invercargill) and cool, still air settling over low lying areas.

But the problem of poor air quality isn’t restricted to Invercargill.

Despite a relatively low population and geographic isolation, urban areas in New Zealand suffer poor air quality during winter.

The Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) report estimated that each year around 1,100 New Zealanders die prematurely from air pollution with an associated health cost of $1.14 billion.

In May 2009 we wrote about air pollution in New Zealand. The  Ministry of the Environment said that poor air quality is a significant issue in some areas of the country. Two thirds of the population live in areas that experience air pollution.

Most of the country’s poor air quality is caused by high winter levels of particulate matter (PM10) from wood and coal used for home heating. Auckland also experiences high levels of PM10 from road transport.

The are presently 43 airsheds across New Zealand where air quality is monitored, 26 of them don’t meet the PM10 standard. (as of June 2010)

The non-complying airsheds include Auckland, Christchurch and a number of provincial cities and towns (especially throughout the South Island).

By 2013, it is estimated that 10 airsheds will continue to exceed the PM10 standard with another five airsheds potentially also exceeding the standard. These 15 airsheds represent 45 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

Air quality in parts of NZ are so bad that the quality standards will be dropped because the previous standards are “unrealistic” and “unfair”:

The Government wants a standard that achieves material improvements in air quality without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and communities…

“These changes are about improving air quality but in a pragmatic and realistic way “… “The Government wants a standard that achieves material improvements in air quality without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and communities.”

Environment Minister, Nick Smith, has admitted that 10 NZ cities and towns are unlikely to meet air quality targets by the year 2013, and has said that the overwhelming proportion of pollution is caused by home fires.

The Invercargill article drew few responses from the paper’s readership, one giving a reason as to why coal is used extensively – hinting at the existence of fuel poverty in the region:

Southland and Invercargill is cold to heat ourselves, we make the choice of using coal as a energy product. Coal not only does it heat our home good, it also at least 100% cheaper than clean burning electricity. That is the crunch of why there is a problem electricity is ridiculously dear, what is unacceptable is the Southlanders who have no choice but use electricity to heat themselves, are turning of the heater in the middle of winter, and putting rugs round themsleves etc on as they simply cannot pay the increaseing electricity account.

Poorly insulated, old, damp housing in Invercargill. Who’d’ve thunk it?
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One thought on “100% Pure? Not The Air Of Invercargill

  1. http://maryisawesome.com/new-zealand-and-allergies

    New Zealand and Allergies
    Posted on October 18, 2010, 5:40 pm, by Mary, under New Zealand.

    I’m going to try and start writing more about life in New Zealand and what it’s like living in another country that many consider a top travel destination. Since I’m currently living more than traveling most of my observations will be more about daily life until I do embark on some adventures down south.

    It would seem like a country where I speak the same language and have similar cultural values wouldn’t be much of a change. But there is always something different that takes time to adjust to. I’ve found quite a few things here in NZ that had been different.

    One thing different is climate.

    Since moving to New Zealand I’ve developed allergy problems and have been diagnosed with allergy asthma. (I think.) Up until my move here I never had a problem with allergies. Some family members have always dealt with them but I was lucky to have no problems. Moving to New Zealand changed all that.

    There is something here in New Zealand that I’m quite allergic to. I’m not quite sure what it is, and to be honest it might be something specific to the house I’m living in currently. A lot of the housing in New Zealand is older and built horribly. This means houses are damp and often have mold problems. I’ve never lived in a house with mold problems so this has been a huge change and is most likely a main cause of my newly inherited asthma condition.

    Some facts about asthma in New Zealand:

    * New Zealand has the second highest prevalence of asthma in the world.
    * One in six New Zealand adults and one in four of our children experience asthma symptoms. (Adding up to more than 600 000 Kiwis.)
    The prevalence of asthma appears to be similar across New Zealand metropolitan centres.
    Severe asthma is common – up to 8 percent of teenagers report wheeze limiting speech, and 10 percent of adults report waking with breathlessness occurring within the previous 12 months.
    Hospitalisation rates for asthma have more than doubled in the past 30 years.
    Asthma is the highest-ranking specific disease in terms of Years Lost to Disability in males, and third highest for females.


    Before visiting the doctor I had been jokingly saying, “I’m allergic to New Zealand!” My trip and subsequent diagnosis confirmed that the joking statement was actually true. I’m allergic to New Zealand. Or at the least, I’m allergic to my current life in New Zealand. And possibly the whole country, which seems to have really high rates of asthma.

    So I guess I could say I’m not off to a good start with my expat life. Moving abroad so far hasn’t been a dream. Some things are amazing and some things less so. Developing a possibly chronic condition is one of the less exciting things so far. It sucks that it’s not all rainbows and beaches, but I might as well be honest about my whole experience!

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