New Zealand’s clean-green image may be mis-leading motorists, as a new study has found that, despite New Zealand’s major cities having less congestion and lower traffic than other big cities in the world, they still produce high commuter exposure to finer pollution particles.
New Zealand’s University of Canterbury (UC) transport expert Professor Simon Kingham (pictured below) has led a major project with other researchers from the University of Auckland and NIWA, collecting data from New Zealand’s main cities of Christchurch and Auckland.
The study, a first for New Zealand, found that the air that Kiwi commuters breathe while travelling is similar for fine particulates for some of the world’s biggest cities.
“The air inside cars is generally more polluted that the air in buses, trains and for cyclists. People cycling on the road experience significantly worse quality air than people cycling on routes away from roads.
“While people travelling by bicycle on roads travel in cleaner air, they can be exposed to higher peaks of pollution than other travellers.
The results are surprising. “This was one of the first studies worldwide in a city with little or no long range transport of pollutants, lower population density and relatively little traffic congestion and, consequently, in an environment where the traffic is consistently moving, albeit sometimes at a slower speed.
“Despite this, the result showed that occupants in cars are exposed to the poorest air quality.
“It is widely accepted that transport emitted air pollution has an adverse effect on health outcomes such as mortality, morbidity and hospital admissions.
“In addition the economic costs can be great. It has been estimated that each year there are 500 cases of premature death in New Zealand due to exposure to air pollution.
“We wanted to investigate the issue of air pollution to gauge how significant it was in a small city such as Christchurch.
“Previous studies have taken place in larger or more densely populated urban areas with significant traffic congestion,’’ Professor Kingham says.