KIRAN CHUG – The Dominion Post, via, 30-10-2010

Air pollution is at unsafe levels around some North Island highways, where World Health Organisation safety limits are being breached.

New data has revealed Auckland and Hamilton roads with unacceptably high levels of pollutants known to harm lungs and increase cases of asthma, and Wellington’s Basin Reserve area has also been flagged as approaching risky levels.

The information was issued by the Transport Agency this week, as it reported for the first time on its air quality monitoring programme introduced in 2007.

NZTA’s principal environmental specialist, Rob Hannaby, said the agency had been monitoring pollution at sites specifically chosen for their proximity to hospitals, schools, and residential areas.

The results revealed three North Island places where the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air were breached.

Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant produced by the combustion of petrol. It has been linked to increased instances of asthma, respiratory problems and deteriorating lung development and function.

“It’s the pollutant that has the health effect,” Mr Hannaby said. Monitoring showed safety guidelines were being exceeded at Lorne St in Hamilton, at an area close to shops and motels; at Auckland’s New North Rd, at a point surrounded by cafes, and at Canada St in Auckland, just off Upper Queen St and beside the Northwestern Motorway.

The results also revealed 12 sites in Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, where Mr Hannaby said “issues are being flagged”.

Among those sites was the Basin Reserve, where there are three schools, the sports ground, shops, motels and apartments.

Regional councils were responsible for air quality management, but Mr Hannaby said the solution to the problems caused by vehicles would come from agencies working together.

“There’s no one organisation that can deliver the outcome we seek, which is good air quality.”

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the results would help the agency better manage the effects of vehicle emissions. “This new data will help us target resources at the areas of highest risk.”

THE agency was trying to reduce pollution from vehicle emissions by reducing peak-hour congestion in urban areas, improving public transport and encouraging people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles.

However, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research scientist Ian Longley said that though technology was having a better-than-expected impact on reducing vehicle emissions, the resulting improvements in air quality were not as impressive.

“We’ve got cleaner cars, but we drive more of them more often and further.”

Both Dr Longley and Mr Hannaby were speaking at the annual Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand conference which was held in Wellington this week at Te Papa.

Mr Knackstedt said NZTA was also using ramp signalling to stagger the number of vehicles entering state highways and reduce congestion because stationary traffic produced higher levels of pollution.

Within those areas where WHO guidelines were being breached, the focus was on severe urban congestion.

For example, at Mt Albert’s New North Rd, the massive Waterview Connection project would help reduce the level of traffic on local roads, Mr Knackstedt said.

Green Party transport spokesman Gareth Hughes said it was absurd to assume that new motorway projects would reduce air pollution.

Instead of spending more than $10 billion on the Roads of National Significance, Mr Hughes said the Government needed to readdress the balance between expenditure on public and active transport modes and roads.

Earlier this year, Environment Minister Nick Smith called for submissions on a review of air quality standards.

The review was supported by an independent technical advisory group which said NZTA could consider the reduction of vehicle air pollution through measures such as more-stringent emission screening of motor vehicles and an incentive scheme to increase the rate of change to better engines with less pollutants.

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