Fireplaces prime pollution source for New Zealand
An official study has identified heating homes as the prime source of harmful particulate matter in New Zealand, outside the city of Auckland, where transport emissions are still the number one killer.
A new report published by the government-sponsored organisation Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand, estimates that poor air quality contributes to around 1,100 deaths in the country each year.
Comparative figures for the UK, whose population is around 15 times that of New Zealand, suggest that annually some 24,000 Britons die prematurely because of exposure to airborne pollutants.
The report acknowledges that air quality in New Zealand is better than in most places, but says there is no room for complacency.
"New Zealand's air pollution cannot be considered poor by international standards, yet there are still measurable health effects, and there are locations and instances where air quality is poor enough to be of concern," it says.
The says that in addition to premature deaths, poor air quality causes around 1,500 extra cases of bronchitis, 700 additional hospital admissions.
The bulk of effects are associated with particulate matter (PM10), but there are also effects associated with other pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.
In terms of the economy, air pollution is costing New Zealand an estimated NZ$1.14 bn (£44m) in lost working hours and treatment of illness.
The results of the study show that high pollution concentrations generally occur in towns with colder climates, leading to a greater use of wood burning for heating - a significant variable in a country with sharp climatic extremes.
Easy access to wood as a resource also proved a major factor in levels of particulates, as did, more predictably, traffic levels.
The full report can be found on the HAPiNZ website.