Healthy Urban Atmospheres

"Healthy Urban Atmospheres" was the name of NIWA's MSI-funded air quality research programme from 2008 to 2011. The Programme was superseded by "Atmospheric Environment, Health & Society"  from 2011, although many of the themes and project remain largely unchanged.

The problem

Urban living has risks as well as rewards. The emission of toxic particles and gases (arising mainly from domestic heating, transport and industry) reduces the quality of the air we breathe and can impact on our health. This reduced air quality also coincides with a high concentrations of people.

Regional Councils are charged with maintaining a certain standard of air quality, but this must be achieved in a way that is compatible with a healthy economy and personal freedom. Air quality management is also part of the bigger sustainability picture, and should work with energy, transport and other urban planning.

There is intensive international debate around whether any given standard, policy or intervention is the best way to protect public health. New Zealand has little available data which would allow us to enter this debate. This 8-year Programme aims to provide the data, the scientific understanding and the tools to support current air quality management, but also to enable the next generation of sustainable integrated approaches to provide for healthy urban atmospheres.

The solution

National Environmental Standards

Deadline 2013 and Beyond – will provide data, tools and methods that will continue to assist environmental policy makers and regulators with compliance with the National Environmental Standards (NES). This objective will build upon the successes of the preceding FRST (now MSI) Programme (Protecting NZ’s Clean Air) by enhancing available tools (such as emission inventories) and addressing knowledge gaps (such as monitor representivity).

Understanding exposure

Understanding exposure will examine and develop the weak link in air quality management – the relationship between ambient air quality and health effects. Our aims are to demonstrate a new exposure-based paradigm, to provide exposure assessment tools, demonstrate their use in epidemiological studies and inform more effective policy and regulation.

Filling the lungs of a sustainable society

This work will develop an understanding of the links between air quality and climate change, and the impacts of climate change strategies on urban air quality. Plus investigate interactions with energy, transport and housing and impacts on ecosystems, buildings and physical heritage.

Key activities will include developing and refining new and existing tools (refining emissions inventories, estimating backgrounds, improving the resolution of modelling tools, accounting for the effect of climate variations); determining new ways of quantifying and assessing pollutants and their effects; determining the contribution of activity, ambient and micro-environmental air quality and social and cultural factors total exposure and health outcomes; and linking air quality outcomes to energy use, climate change and sustainability.

The result

HUA began in October 2008 and ran for 3 years.

Otahuhu air quality survey from NIWA on Vimeo.


Protecting New Zealand's Clean Air

"Protecting New Zealand's Clean Air " was the name of the FRST-funded air quality research programme from 2004-2008.  Some selected reports and presentations from the Programme can be found here:

Auckland motorway (Gavin Fisher)