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Ambient air quality guidelines: 2002 update

The Ambient Air Quality Guidelines provide guidance in how to manage air quality. They set guideline values to ensure our air is clean and healthy to breathe. They replace those first published by the Ministry in 1994.

The guidelines promote the sustainable management of air resource in New Zealand. As such, the guideline values are minimum requirements that all outdoor air quality should meet to protect people and ecosystems from significant adverse effects.

The guidelines were last updated in 2002. Your regional council may have its own air quality guidelines. Regional guidelines may be more stringent than the New Zealand guidelines because you may have a particular air quality issue in your region. We recommend you refer to your regional air plan to find out more details for your region.


Air pollution is harming our health and that of our children and parents. The young and old are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. A recent study estimates that around 970 premature deaths are caused every year in New Zealand by inhaling air pollution from sources such as vehicles, home-heating fires and industries. Premature deaths are just the 'tip of the iceberg'. Air pollution causes many harmful effects, ranging from premature death, to headaches, coughing and asthma attacks.

The air resource is not a rubbish dump for the harmful particles and gases we emit as we drive our cars, heat our homes and run our factories. But it is easy to forget that as we put our foot down on the accelerator, or throw another log on the fire, potentially harmful pollutants spew out of the tailpipe or chimney. We tend to think pollutants simply blow away, but under some conditions they may be inhaled, minutes or hours later, by someone who suffers as a consequence. Or worse, we think that our small contribution is insignificant - 'my actions do not affect air quality'.

To reduce the health and environmental effects of air pollution and ensure that our air is clean for future generations, we need to reduce emissions of pollutants into the air we breathe.

Regional councils develop regional air plans and education programmes aimed at reducing pollution, and central government is developing vehicle emissions standards, national environmental standards and new fuel regulations. While these actions should improve air quality, we need to encourage everyone to think about how they contribute as individuals to air pollution, and to change their daily activities as a result. This is the real challenge, but there are small, manageable changes that everyone can make that will improve air quality.

These revised 2002 Ambient Air Quality Guidelines set guidelines values that we must achieve and, where possible improve upon, to ensure our air is clean and healthy to breathe. The Ministry will encourage all those responsible for managing air quality to use the 2002 Guidelines to develop reduction strategies that achieve sustainable air quality.

Finally, I would like to thank those who commented on the proposals released in December 2000. It has taken a long time to produce these new Guidelines, but I think the input of so many people is reflected in their quality and usefulness.

Hon Marian L Hobbs
Minister for the Environment

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