Rushing to judgment causes red faces

I bet some political parties and their spokespeople are feeling just a little bit sheepish today after they rushed out press releases trying to capitalise on a report on air pollution from WHO that has since been withdrawn.

The World Health Organisation has removed data from its website that suggested New Zealand cities’ air quality was poorer than any major city in Australia and that Auckland’s air pollution was on a par with Tokyo’s.

In a compilation of air quality data from 1100 cities in 91 countries, reporting concentrations of health damaging “PM10” particles WHO published 2009 data it said was sourced from the Ministry of Environment which suggested air quality in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington breached its safety guidelines.

That, however was challenged by Environment Minister Nick Smith and his ministry.

The data has been replaced by 2010 numbers which showed all New Zealand main centres within the WHO safety guidelines of no more than 20 micrograms of PM10 particles per cubic metre of air with the exception of Dunedin which had been the only compliant New Zealand city according to the previous figures.

…Coordinator at WHO’s department of health and the environment Carlos Dora told Radio NZ the mistake was down to human error when the data was entered into its database.

“We’ve already been in touch with the Ministry of the Environment and different people in New Zealand because they spotted correctly there was a mistake. We have already corrected the database we presented already our apologies.”

Gareth Hughes should now feel more than a little bit stupid for his press release of Tuesday:

“More people in Auckland are dying from air pollution than in road crashes,” said Green Party transport spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

“This survey comes soon after a report to the Auckland Council estimated more than 700 premature deaths a year result from air pollution, should serve as a wake-up call.

“If these deaths happened all at once it would be recognised as a national tragedy and would be the subject of an official inquiry.

“Air pollution costs our health system, it’s bad for our people and it’s bad for the economy.”

Rather emotive and based on an erroneous and now withdrawn report. Phil Twyford and Charles Chauvel can likewise feel a bit silly:

A report showing air pollution in Auckland is double that of Sydney’s and on a par with Tokyo’s is another blot on National’s ever-expanding not very environmental copybook, Labour’s Environment spokesperson Charles Chauvel says.

World Health Organisation data out today reveals New Zealand cities trail all major Australian cities in terms of air quality, with Auckland the worst.

“Our largest city is just now getting a glimpse of the real cost of Steven Joyce’s anti-rail, more roads-at-all-cost policies – increased air pollution,” Charles Chauvel said.

“What’s particularly disgraceful is that the WHO report comes just two months after Auckland City Council reported that dirty air accounts for more than 700 deaths each year.

“Diluted air quality standards, minimum vehicle emission standards, and a relentless push for more cars is a disastrous combination.

“That’s a terrible public policy failure for National. As another MP observed recently, and rightly, Steven Joyce is the Colossus of Roads, and that will be his legacy,” Charles Chauvel said.

Well maybe it is a terrible failure, but I reckon the failure is on their part for relying on dodgy states from WHO. I wonder fo they will now retract their silly press releases.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • sthnjeff

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for a retraction…

    Twyford has done a similar thing in the past in regard to use of Boron as a timber preservative. Still waiting for his retraction on that front to.

  • jonno1

    What is annoying about this sort of beat-up (and I’m not referring to the data error per se) is that it’s self-evident to an impartial observor, especially if you’ve been to the other cities cited, that on an empirical level the data is simply wrong. So to harp on about it is dishonest at the very least.

  • Paranormal

    I don’t understand why you would even think the lefties would retract? Isn’t it their known modus operandi to make outrageous claims based on shonky science as reported by UN/governmental agencies?

  • The WHO report may be wrong, but there’s no denying we still have a problem with air pollution in New Zealand. In particular Auckland with its vehicle based pollution, Timaru with it’s open fires and inefficient wood burners, and Central Otago/Southland towns with their love of coal have the biggest problems.

    A 2003 Ministry for the Environment report on the Health Effects of PM10 in New Zealand ( ) estimated there are 970 annual premature deaths due to air pollution with 436 of those coming from Auckland.

    • insider

      Andrew recently Auckland council said at least 700 in Auckland alone (that’s 1 in 10 deaths in the city) and that is in a stable to improving air quality environment. The variability alone shows these numbers are bollocks. and the 1 in 10 figure just doesn’t pass the sniff test – do you know anyone, or know of anyone who knows anyone who has died from air pollution?

      • Good point, this raises a issue about premature deaths and comparing different types of deaths without taking how premature the deaths are into account. As an example, a 20 year old who loses their life in a car crash has about 60 years wiped of their expected life, whereas someone who dies at the age of 75 (instead of getting to 80) due to pollution would only have 5 years wiped off.

        When we talk about premature deaths, we really should quantify it in relation to expected years lost (and also productivity lost) as opposed to the number of deaths (as I must admit I have done in the past). Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any research that has gone this extra step.

        • insider

          my understanding is that ‘premature’ can be down to an hour or two, or days, and that is where a large chunk actually sit, but my memories are a bit hazy on that

  • Dutyfree

    The 700 deaths stuff is just rubbish. Like most of this statistical analysis it will be based on some correlations undertaken somewhere (in the world) that indicated that there was a correlation between air pollution and life expectancy. There is a 100% correlation between breathing and death and not breathing and death. This does not mean breathing causes death, although not breathing definitely does! Show me the post-mortums that were done on the whole population (of deaths) in Auckland that lead to the conclusion that they died pre-maturely because of air pollution.