Health effects of air pollution

This section presents information about the estimated health effects from exposure to particulate matter in New Zealand.

Health effects are modelled, and are determined by considering the PM10 concentrations to which New Zealanders are exposed, and the anticipated health risks associated with these concentrations. Only human-made sources of particulate matter were considered, such as burning wood and/or coal for home heating, road motor vehicle emissions, open (outdoor) burning, and industry.

Particulate matter exposure affects health

Particulate matter (PM) comprises solid and liquid particles in the air, both from natural and human-made sources. PM can be inhaled and damages health. Associated health effects range from respiratory irritation to heart problems, lung cancer, and premature deaths. People with pre-existing conditions (e.g. asthma), young children, and older adults are more vulnerable and at higher risk of experiencing health effects [1] [2].

Read more on the particulate matter webpage.

Modelled health effects include [3] [4]:

  • premature deaths: deaths for adults (30+ years), often preventable, that occur before a person reaches the age they were expected to live to.
  • cardiac and respiratory hospitalisations: hospitalisations for respiratory and cardiac illnesses (not including cases leading to premature death) for people of all ages.
  • restricted activity days: days that occur when symptoms are sufficient to limit usual activities such as work and study for people of all ages.

Air pollution has major effects on health in New Zealand

In 2016, air pollution from human-made PM10 was associated with an estimated [4]:

  • 1,277 premature deaths (27.2 per 100,000 people)
  • 236 cardiac hospitalisations (5.0 per 100,000 people)
  • 440 respiratory hospitalisations (9.4 per 100,000 people)
  • 1.49 million restricted activity days (31,839 per 100,000 people)

Between 2006 and 2016 there was a decrease in health effects per 100,000 people (Figure 1) [4]. However, this decrease appears to be due to more people living in areas with less PM, rather than a true reduction in PM exposure [4].

Figure 1: Estimated health effects from exposure to human-made PM10, per 100,000 people, in 2006 and 2016

More cases per 100,000 people in South Island territorial authorities

In 2016, the highest number of modelled cases of premature mortality, cardiac and respiratory hospital admissions, and restricted activity days per 100,000 people were in the South Island (Figure 2). Territorial Authorities (TA) especially affected were Invercargill City, Timaru District, and Gore District (Table 1).

Table 1: Territorial authorities (TAs) with the highest number of health effects, per 100,000 people, in 2016

Figure 2: Estimated number of premature deaths per 100,000 people, by TA, in 2016

Source: Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ 2018

Information about the data

Health effects from air pollution in New Zealand

Data is from the ‘Our Air 2018’ report by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ [4], which included data on health effects from PM10 modelled using the updated Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) model [3].

Modifications to the updated HAPINZ model include [5]:

  • Use of 2013 Census area unit boundaries for all population data
  • Where available, the following data were updated: health incidence, source apportionment, PM10 monitoring data
  • Use of estimated resident population numbers


  1. World Health Organization. 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution - REVIHAAP Project: Final technical report.Copenhagen: World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe.
  2. Loomis D, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, et al. 2013. The carcinogenicity of outdoor air pollution. The Lancet Oncology14(13): 1262-1263. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70487-X
  3. Kuschel G, Metcalfe J, Wilton E, Guria J, Hales S, Rolfe K, et al. 2012. Updated Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand Study. Volume 1: Summary report.Prepared by Emission Impossible and others for Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry of Transport, Ministry for the Environment, and NZ Transport Agency. Available online:
  4. Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand. 2018. New Zealand's Environmental Reporting Series: Our air 2018. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment. URL:
  5. Ministry for the Environment. 2018. Data quality for health impacts of PM10. URL:
Useful links Back to Top