Clearing the air
The council plans to rid the city of ‘bad air days’, but there is much to be done to clean up Auckland’s air.
Air quality in Auckland is not meeting government clean-air rules and pollution levels breached national quality standards 19 times between 2005 and 2010. During the same period, air quality in urban Auckland failed to meet ‘acceptable standards’ up to 17 times a year.
Although real-time monitoring of Auckland’s air takes place every day, it’s difficult to find the results.
The city council’s Wayne Walker, chairman of the Environment and Sustainability Forum, says daily notices about the city’s air quality should be posted on websites, warning people when air quality is below World Health Organisation recommendations.
“I am keen on making Aucklanders aware of the situation, so that if we have a bad air day, people know,” says Walker.
“There is no reason why this shouldn’t be done today. We already measure the air quality across Auckland, people should be told what the air situation is. We have a number of days in Auckland that do not meet the standards, it is happening at least five times a year.”
Walker also says the current air quality standards don’t measure everything in the air.
“One of the things we don’t have in the standards right now is that fine particulates of 2.5 microns or less – particulates that can stick in the lungs – are not measured. These pollutants come from vehicle emissions.”
Not only is the city breaching national air regulations, a plan to improve air quality appears to have stalled.
“There is a set timeline whereby Auckland needs to reach no more than one [air quality] breach a year by September 2016,” says Walker.
“The Auckland plan says that by 2016 we need to have cut air pollution by 50 per cent based on 2006 levels to meet World Health Organisation ambient air quality standards. But we are not on track to deliver that.” Despite air quality rules having been breached, no one, says Walker, can be made to answer for it. “The mechanisms the Ministry for the Environment might use are not very clear; they have certainly told the council they are going to increase pressure on us for not making sufficient effort to meet the standards, but that is as far as it has gone.”
Particulate matter is the main issue for Auckland in terms of risk to health with domestic fires causing most of the problems – particularly in winter. The transport sector is also a leading cause of air pollution when taking into account all contaminants.
Honda New Zealand’s MD Graeme Seymour puts the blame of Auckland’s air quality squarely at the door of diesel-powered vehicles.
“That brown haze you see over Auckland is mainly coming from diesel vehicles such as buses, trucks and cars,” he says. “And it has nothing to do with the quality of the fuel – it is the vehicles themselves.”
Seymour makes the point that, due in part to current car import rules, New Zealand has one of the “dirtiest vehicle fleets in the world.”
“The average age of cars on the road here is 13 years,” he says.
Seymour says electric cars are the ideal solution to global car emissions, for both pollutants and CO2.
“Electric is the ultimate answer, there is no question about that,” he says.
“The only problem is how to carry the energy. The best batteries are lithium ion but they don’t work for long-range driving. The most practical and, in fact, very good options at present are clean burning petrol vehicles and hybrids.”
Electric vehicles in the city also have the backing of Auckland Council, which is investigating technology whereby electric vehicles stopped at the traffic lights are charged by underroad units.