Unmasking the Winter Air Quality Issue in New Zealand - Snap Air

Unmasking the Winter Air Quality Issue in New Zealand

Air quality is an essential aspect of overall well-being, yet often overlooked. In New Zealand, many remain unaware of how winter weather profoundly affects the air we breathe.

The Unseen Winter Culprit

Winter air pollution in New Zealand is mainly shaped by weather patterns and heating choices. In the colder regions, while less common than previous years, we still see fireplaces being used for warmth. These emit particulate matter; tiny harmful particles into the air we breathe.

Even though recently there have been tightened standards as far as emissions from these, they've focused on reducing the larger PM10 particles. The levels of PM2.5 seen in the air however frequently exceed WHO recommendations.

Fireplace running with firewood next to it

Inversion Layers: A Winter Phenomenon

The New Zealand climate significantly influences air quality. In winter, many areas experience cold, still nights. These conditions, along with geographical features like mountains, create 'inversion layers'. This traps cold air and pollutants close to the ground, boosting harmful particle levels. We commonly see these occur in valleys and parts of Canterbury, Otago, Southland and Marlborough.

Inversion layers occur when a layer of warm air sits on top of cooler air. This is the reverse of what we normally see where air gets cooler at higher elevations. This "lid" traps pollutants, contributing to higher PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations.

PM10 and PM2.5 are particulate matter, or tiny particles in the air. PM10 particles are less than 10 micrometres in diameter, and PM2.5 are smaller, less than 2.5 micrometres. The tiny PM2.5 particles are concerning, as they penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream.

Graphic showing how inversion layers work

Health Implications of Poor Air Quality

Air quality influences our health. Both PM10 and PM2.5 pose health risks. The small PM2.5 particles, which can infiltrate our respiratory system, exacerbate conditions like asthma and COPD and can contribute to heart disease and lung cancer development over time.

The World Health Organization states PM2.5 exposure can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular issues, hospital admissions, and mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

Understanding air quality's link to health is vital, especially for those in colder New Zealand regions, where winter pollution can be harmful. Pollution levels in these areas can reach unhealthy and even very unhealthy levels at times.

Infographic showing impacts on health at different air quality index levels

Measures to Improve Air Quality

As we gear up against winter cold, we can also protect ourselves from air pollution.

Monitor the Air Quality

Air quality knowledge in your area is crucial. Monitoring can help us make informed decisions about indoor stay times during poor air quality periods. LAWA (Land Air Water Aotearoa) has a great air quality dashboard which can tell you more about the trends in your area. For live air quality monitoring check out the aqicn website.

It can also help to monitor your indoor air, as outdoor pollutants can seep into your home. Personally, I found in my Christchurch home that during winter nights the air inside my home would also reach unhealthy levels.

Want to check if the same happens to you? We have affordable and high accuracy air quality monitors available on our website.

Qingping Pro air quality monitor with app

Air Purifiers and Filters

Quality air purifiers can remove harmful particulate matter from your home's air. Opt for purifiers with HEPA filters to remove PM2.5 particles. We provide a range of proven, affordable and effective air purifiers from Smart Air®.

Smart Air Sqair air purifier

Clean Heating

Cleaner heating options can improve air quality. If possible, consider shifting from wood burners to cleaner heat pump options.

Wrapping up

Awareness is the first step in enhancing our winter air quality. The more we understand, the better we can protect our health and communities. Stay informed, take action, and breathe easier this winter.

Back to blog