Sulphur dioxide concentrations

  • Image, Sulphur dioxide concentrations.

    Sulphur dioxide is a gas produced from human (eg industry and shipping) and natural (geothermal and volcanic) activities. Nationally, the main human-made source of sulphur oxides emissions is industry. Sulphur dioxide is associated with respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, and can aggravate the symptoms of asthma and chronic lung disease.

    We classified Sulphur dioxide concentrations as a case study.

    Key findings

    In 2013, 1 of 8 monitoring sites around the country exceeded the national short-term standard for sulphur dioxide. Half of these sites exceeded the World Health Organization (WHO) short-term guideline.

    • One busy industrial site (Woolston, Christchurch) exceeded the standard for four 1-hour periods.
    • Four busy port or industrial sites (Timaru, Auckland waterfront, Mount Maunganui, and Woolston, Christchurch) exceeded the guideline between 1 and 65 times.
    • Four sites that did not exceed the guideline were a mix of industrial and urban sites.
    • Between 2006 and 2013, a significant decrease occurred in concentrations in 2 of 4 monitoring sites where trend assessments could be conducted. The trend of the other two sites is indeterminate – showing neither a significant increasing or decreasing trend.
    • Comparisons of selected sites showed that annual average concentrations at the urban background site (Penrose, Auckland) were much lower than those at the busy industrial (Mount Maunganui and Woolston, Christchurch) and port (Auckland waterfront) sites.

    Figure 1

    Note: Results do not necessarily represent the whole location. Regularly exceeding sites are those that exceeded the World Health Organization (WHO) short-term guideline in more than one year. The Timaru site exceeded only once (in 2013) and is not considered a regularly exceeding site. Sulphur dioxide concentrations are in micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3). Data from Bay of Plenty Regional Council; Environment Canterbury Regional Council; Auckland Council.

    Figure 2

    Note: The four sites show concentrations experienced at different site types – busy industry (1), busy port (2), and urban (3). Results do not necessarily represent the whole location. Suitable data were not available for all years for the Mount Maunganui and Auckland waterfront sites. No long-term guideline exists for SO2 concentrations. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) concentrations are in micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3). Data from Bay of Plenty Regional Council; Environment Canterbury Regional Council; Auckland Council.

    Definition and methodology

    Sulphur dioxide is a gas produced from burning fossil fuels that contain sulphur, such as coal and oil for industry, shipping, and home heating. It also occurs naturally from geothermal activity and volcanoes.

    This case study reports the one-hour, 24-hour, and annual average concentrations of sulphur dioxide (micrograms per cubic metre, µg/m3). We compare the one-hour concentrations with the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality short-term standard. Exceedances occur when concentrations are above 350 µg/m3. We compare the 24-hour concentrations with the World Health Organization (WHO) short-term guideline. Exceedances occur when concentrations are above 20 µg/m3.

    The WHO short-term guideline recommends a level of protection against health risks from exposure to sulphur dioxide. The national short-term standard sets a level of protection that must be met. Neither provides complete protection, and adverse health effects can occur at lower concentrations.

    Data quality

    We classified Sulphur dioxide concentrations as a case study.

    Relevance

     This case study is a partial measure of the ‘Airborne gases of concern to human health’ topic.

    Accuracy

     The accuracy of the data source is of high quality.

    See Data quality information for more detail.

     

    Published 21 October 2015

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