Environmental Health Indicators for New Zealand 2008

Purpose and scope of this report

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Purpose and scope of this report


This report builds on the previous work carried out by ESR by presenting key indicators for environmental health in New Zealand. It fulfils an important purpose in drawing together data from a wide variety of sources (including government and non-government agencies) to present an overview of environmental health issues. The overall purpose is to provide robust scientific evidence to assist with decision-making and action on environmental health issues in New Zealand.
The specific objectives of this report are consistent with the key objectives for environmental health indicators identified during the development of the DPSEEA framework (Briggs 1999), which are to:

  • monitor trends in the state of the environment

  • monitor trends in environment-related health effects

  • compare regions in order to identify areas in need

  • monitor and assess the effectiveness of policies and interventions

  • raise awareness of environmental health issues

  • investigate links between the environment and health.

This report will be of interest to the Ministry of Health and other central government agencies such as the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Transport, NZ Transport Agency, Department of Building and Housing, and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as public health units, District Health Boards (DHBs), the wider health sector, regional councils, local councils and the general public.


Air quality is an important aspect of environmental health in New Zealand. Air pollutants include fine particulate matter, and toxic gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. The sources of outdoor air pollution include home heating, vehicle emissions, industrial processes, power stations, and natural sources such as pollen, sea salt, soil, volcanoes and forest fires (Kjellström 2004). Indoor air quality is affected by tobacco smoke, fuels used for cooking and heating, and wall materials (Kjellström 2004). Human health effects from poor air quality include respiratory problems, particularly in the young and old and in people with pre-existing medical problems. A study recently found that air pollution accounted for 1079 cases of premature mortality in New Zealand in 2001 (Fisher et al 2007).
Water quality is another important environmental health issue in New Zealand. Water (including ground, surface and recreational water – both marine and freshwater) can become contaminated with toxins, excessive nutrients, and human and animal wastes (Cromar and Fallowfield 2004). Contamination of drinking-water and recreational water can lead to health problems, including enteric diseases (Cromar and Fallowfield 2004; McBride et al 1998).
Biosecurity is an emerging issue for New Zealand. Globalisation is resulting in increased numbers of tourists and vessels visiting New Zealand each year, which increases the risk of a border incursion of a pest or disease with the potential for affecting health. In particular, arboviruses (those diseases carried by insects such as mosquitoes and ticks) such as malaria and dengue fever could have a potentially large impact if the vector became established in New Zealand. This makes biosecurity an important environmental health issue to monitor on an ongoing basis.
Other environmental health issues that have not been included in this report include housing, occupational health, noise, sanitation, waste management, food safety and radiation. The biosecurity section has focused on vector-borne disease and has not included venomous biting insects and animals. Future reports could examine other environmental health issues.
For each of these environmental health issues, indicators cover the different aspects of the DPSEEA framework. These include indicators for driving forces, pressures on the environment, the state of the environment, human exposure to the environment, human health effects, and actions currently being taken to address the environmental health issue. These indicators are broadly consistent with those selected by ESR as part of the scoping study in 2001 (Phillips et al 2001) and in later environmental health indicator reports (eg, Hambling and Slaney 2007; Khan 2002).
For each indicator, key analyses are presented using the most recently available data. Results are presented for analyses at the national level, and where possible and appropriate, examining time trends and regional differences. The results presented are descriptive only, and cannot be used to infer causal associations between exposure and health effects.

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