Hazardous substances-related deaths reported to the coroner in New Zealand
This section presents information on deaths due to hazardous substances in New Zealand from 2008–19. The data comes from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) and only include deaths where the coroner has completed the investigation.
Every year, people in New Zealand continue to die from exposure to hazardous substances. Common exposures include inhalation of carbon monoxide, huffing of butane, and exposure to pesticides, solvents, cleaning agents and paints. These deaths are often preventable (Environmental Protection Authority 2013).
Factsheets and Metadata
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The number of hazardous substances-related deaths fluctuated year-to-year
There were 10 hazardous substances-related deaths reported to the coroner in 2019 and eight in 2018. The number of deaths fluctuated year-to-year, from 18 deaths in 2008 to 10 deaths in 2019 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Number of hazardous substances-related deaths by year, 2008–19
The hazardous substances-related mortality rate in the 2015–19 period was half the rate of the 2008–12 period
The age-standardised mortality rates from hazardous substances have halved between 2008–12 (0.4 deaths per 100,000) and 2015–19 (0.2 deaths per 100,000) (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Hazardous substances-related mortality rate, 2008–19 (Age-standardised rate per 100,000)
Since 2008–12, the number of deaths for males have been consistently higher than for females
The number of hazardous substance-related deaths have been consistently higher for males than females since 2008–12 (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Number of hazardous substances-related deaths by sex, 2008–19
Poisoning from butane and other hydrocarbons is the leading cause of death in ages 15–24, while carbon monoxide poisoning affected ages 25–74 in 2008–19
In 2008–19, of the 40 deaths in the 15–24 year age group, 24 (60%) were related to inhaling butane gas and other hydrocarbons. This was the leading cause of death among young people aged 15–24 years.
Carbon monoxide poisoning was the most common cause of death for those aged 25–74 years in 2008–19 (Table 1a).
Table 1a: Number of hazardous substances-related deaths, cause of death, 2008–19
The percentage of butane and other hydrocarbons deaths in ages 15–24 has decreased by 73% from 2008–13 to 2014–19
In 2008–13, 19 out of 29 deaths in the 15–24 year age group were related to inhaling butane gas and other hydrocarbons. This number of deaths has decreased by 73% from 19 in 2008–13 to five in 2014–19 (Table 1b).
Table 1b: Number of butane gas and other hydrocarbons deaths, by age group and years
Unintentional exposures account for the majority of deaths in people under 25 years, while intentional self-harm is more common in older adults
In 2008–19, among young people aged under 25 years, the majority of the hazardous substances deaths were listed as “unintentional” (33 out of 46 deaths, 72%). However, among adults aged 25–84 years, intentional self-harm contributed to most of the hazardous substance deaths (81 out of 119 deaths, 68%) (Figure 4).
Figure 4:Percentage of hazardous substances-related deaths, by intent and age group (years), 2008–19
The hazardous substances-related mortality rate for Māori has decreased from 2008 onwards, while the rate for non- Māori has remained unchanged
The rate of hazardous substances-related deaths for Māori has decreased from 0.6 per 100,000 in 2008–12 to 0.1 per 100,000 in 2015–19. There was a higher than usual number of deaths (n=8 deaths) reported to the coroner in 2010, compared to all other years (<5 deaths). However, the rates for non-Māori have shown minimal change over the period.
Since 2008–12, there were no clear disparities in crude mortality rates from hazardous substances between Māori and non-Māori (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Hazardous substances-related death rates, by Māori/Non-Māori, 2008–19 (crude rate per 100,000)
Information about the data
The data presented in this factsheet were extracted from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) on 19 July 2021. The dataset extracted contained every hazardous substances-related deaths reported to the New Zealand coroner between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2019. This factsheet reports on deaths due to exposures to chemical or other substances, or other non-pharmaceutical chemical substances, and where the coronial investigation had concluded, and the case was closed on the NCIS.
We acknowledge the Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria as the source organisation of the NCIS data in this report, and the NCIS as the database source of that date. We would like to thank the NCIS team for providing peer-review comments on this factsheet.
1.Environmental Protection Authority. 2013. Monitoring the Effectiveness of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. URL: https://www.epa.govt.nz/assets/RecordsAPI/ac9ce4bf76/Monitoring-the-effectiveness-of-the-HSNO-Act-2013.pdf (accessed August 2021)
2.Office of the Chief Coroner of New Zealand. 2012. Case Study from Recommendations Recap: volatile substance abuse-Butane-based substances from issue 2. URL: https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/assets/uploads/2012-uploads/Chief-Coroners-Report-Butane-Case-Study.pdf (accessed October 2021)