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.

Element - - Transport - By Steve Hart

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.

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