Position: Associate Professor, Field: Geography, Organisation: University of Canterbury
Associate Professor Simon Kingham is a researcher in the Geography Department at the University of Canterbury. His research interests include investigating air pollution, transport and health and the links between them.
His interest in health and transport began when he was studying at Lancaster University in the UK. He graduated with a BA (Hons) in Geography and worked for a while researching how to make a better fly spray! He then decided to return to full-time study and focused on a more long-term project for a PhD. In this study, he investigated the effects of air pollution from a hospital incinerator. At the time, hospital incinerators were exempt from British regulations but health authorities were increasingly becoming concerned about the impact the incinerator was having on the health of the population.
The thing that excites me about my work – if my research can help make New Zealand cleaner and it can clean up the air, which means people can walk around without getting asthma, then that’s fantastic, that is what I want to do.
“There were terrible stories about limbs being put in hospital incinerators with all these dressings and things and some guy would throw a match in and hope, and there were people recording bits of dressings with blood on them coming out the top because they weren’t working properly,” says Simon. “Now, fortunately, the law has changed in Britain, and they can’t do that.”
After completing this project, he worked at the University of Newcastle where he studied the impacts on people’s health of a factory in north-east England. This was followed by a stint at the University of Huddersfield, where, among other studies, he examined the exposure of different groups of commuters to air pollution and discovered that motorists’ exposure was higher than cyclists. He also discovered that cyclists who used cycle pathways away from traffic had less exposure to the air pollution.
Simon then got a lectureship at the University of Hertfordshire, where he continued his pollution research including monitoring the particulates produced from different forms of transport. In 2000, he came to the University of Canterbury on a visiting lectureship in the Department of Geography, and while he was here, he was offered a full-time job and he has stayed ever since.
Recently, Simon has been involved in a large study that looks at the effects of air pollution in the form of particulates produced by fires and traffic on health. Particulate levels were measured and mapped by urban area for the whole of New Zealand at a fine spatial resolution. This information was then compared with illness and mortality statistics. It is estimated that, in New Zealand as a whole, air pollution has contributed to a 4.8% increase in mortality, but in Christchurch that figure is even higher at 11.8%.
Simon’s research can help the government and regional councils to develop strategies to reduce the level of air pollution and therefore improve the health of many people.
At the start of 2018 Professor Simon Kingham was named the first Chief Science Adviser for the Ministry of Transport, Te Manatū Waka.
This article is based on information current in 2008.