Indicators at a glance - Air quality

This section summarises the latest Environmental Health Indicators about air quality and health in New Zealand.


Air pollution can be produced from human activity or natural sources. In New Zealand, wood and coal fires and motor vehicles are major human-made sources of air pollution.

Air quality is monitored at sites throughout New Zealand, including for: PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometres), nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. 

Indicator Key findings
Wood and coal fires
  • One-third of private dwellings in New Zealand used a wood burner or a pellet fire as their main type of heating in 2018
  • The type of heating used to heat dwellings varies across the country, wood burner or pellet fires were more common in the South Island, whereas gas heaters were more common in the North Island.
  • The use of coal burners ranged from 0.1% of dwellings in Christchurch City to 42.0% in Grey District.
Motor vehicles
  • In 2019, there were about 4.4 million motor vehicles in New Zealand, the highest number ever.
  • There were 818 light vehicles per 1,000 people in 2019. This represents one of the highest car ownership rates in the world
  • Light electric vehicles accounted for 2.7% of all light vehicle registrations in December 2020,compared to 0.1% in December 2014. While registration rates for electric vehicles are rising, they made up only 0.45% of the light vehicle fleet in 2019.
  • The average age of the light vehicle fleet increased from 11.8 years in 2000 to 14.1 years in 2019.
Particulate matter
  • 38 monitoring stations exceeded the daily PM10 standard on almost 3,700 occasions between 2006 and 2016.
  • Eight monitoring stations exceeded the daily PM2.5 guideline on average 88 days per year between 2008 and 2016.
  • More than three quarters of exceedances of the daily PM10 and PM2.5 standard and guideline occur in the winter months.
Other air pollutants
  • Five out of 13 stations exceeded the national standard (one-hour average) for nitrogen dioxide between 2004
    and 2016.
  • Six out of nine monitoring stations exceeded the 24-hour average WHO guideline for sulphur dioxide between 2008 and 2017.
  • None of the 13 monitoring stations with valid data exceeded the national 8-hour average standard between 2008 and 2016.  
Health effects of air pollution 
  • In 2016, human-made air pollution in New Zealand was associated with an estimated: 1,277 premature deaths, 676 extra hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and 1.49 million restricted activity days.
  • Timaru District, Invercargill City, and Gore District were the territorial authorities with the highest number of health effects per 100,000 people in 2016.
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