Rights: The University of Waikato Published 18 June 2008 Download

Associate Professor Simon Kingham at the Geography Department, University of Canterbury, explains how he has been asked by the government to estimate some of the costs of air pollution – how it affects people’s health and may cause them to die, to need time off work because they are sick or to go to hospital for medical treatment.


The government were interested in air pollution in New Zealand. They particularly wanted to know how many people were exposed to what levels of pollution. The reason they were interested was because they want to know how many people are dying from air pollution, they want to know how many people are having their activity restricted, in other words, being so sick they can't go to school or go to work. They want to know how many people are going to hospital or visiting their doctor. Part of it is they also wanted to know how much that is costing the government. So you can quantify, you can apply a value, a monetary value, to every person who dies, every person that goes to the hospital, every person who misses a day of work. But you can also then apply a value, a monetary value, to how much it costs to fix pollution. So in, for instance, in Christchurch, we know most air pollution comes from wood burners. We could therefore take all the wood burners out of Christchurch and replace them with heat pumps, and that would cost a certain amount of money. The government wants to know how much money that would save in terms of quality of people’s health. So what they wanted was an assessment of the quality of air over the whole country for every single person who would be affected by air quality, or adverse air quality.

Larry McCombs