Environmental health reports

Environmental health reports are prepared for the Ministry of Health by ESR experts. You can read these reports from the links below.

Climate change effects on marine harmful algal blooms in Aotearoa NZ

Harmful algae blooms (HABs) occur world-wide and Aotearoa New Zealand has experienced its share of significant bloom events. This report reviews how climate change will likely impact marine HABs in Aotearoa New Zealand and how these changes could affect public health. 

Climate change effects on marine harmful algal blooms in Aotearoa NZ [PDF, 1.3 MB]

Climate change is already impacting freshwaters in Aotearoa New Zealand, and cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are expected to flourish with continued climate change. Many cyanobacteria species produce toxins that pose a health risk to animals and humans through physical contact, or by consuming them via contaminated water or aquatic foodstuffs. This review assesses the impact climate change will likely have on problematic cyanobacteria in Aotearoa New Zealand and how these changes could impact human health.

Climate change and toxic freshwater cyanobacteria in Aotearoa NZ [PDF, 1.8 MB]

Health Risks Associated with Discharges to Air from Agriculture

Agricultural activities discharge a range of contaminants into the air including greenhouse gases, ammonia, particulate matter, endotoxins, pathogens, volatile organic compounds, and odour as well as chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. In New Zealand, livestock are known to be a significant source of greenhouse gases, however the potential public health risks associated with discharges to air from agriculture and agricultural practices in New Zealand have not been assessed. This review focusses on emerging issues related to agricultural activities that may be associated with risks for public health including particulate discharges to air from agriculture, and potential health risks associated with living near intensive livestock farms.

This is a preliminary scoping review to evaluate the relevance of these issues in New Zealand and identify data gaps.

Public Health Risks Associated with Discharges to Air from Agriculture in New Zealand: Scoping Review [PDF, 1.2 MB]

Factsheets on World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines


Review of potential health hazards associated with industrial effluents

Untreated industrial effluents may contain a wide variety of contaminants of potential concern for human health. This report groups contaminants into seven broad classes: endocrine disrupting compounds, heavy metals and metalloids, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, microplastics, and contaminants of specific concern for tikanga Māori. To determine the potential health risks posed by these contaminants in the Aotearoa New Zealand context, further analysis is required.

Review of potential health hazards associated with industrial effluents [PDF, 2.1 MB]

Decontamination of mould-affected environments

When building materials become damp, fungal spores and bacteria present in indoor air and dust can colonise the building materials and grow, producing visible contamination (mould). Inhalation of mould has been associated with allergic reactions, toxic and irritant effects and infections.

Indoor mould growth can be prevented or minimised by actively maintaining, inspecting, and correcting buildings for moisture problems and immediately drying and managing water-damaged materials. However, necessary steps are not always taken and given the potential for adverse human health effects, it is important that mould occurring in the indoor environment be removed and that the cause of the high moisture contents also be addressed.

This report considers two bodies of information:

  • Advice, provided by various organisations, on approaches for the removal of mould
  • Evidence for the efficacy of approaches for the removal of mould

Decontamination of mould-affect environments report [PDF, 681 KB]

Public Health Risks associated with Transport Emissions in NZ

Transportation in New Zealand – which encompasses road, rail, maritime transport and aviation – emits a wide range of air pollutants, many of which present a public health risk. The adverse effects of transport emissions are significant in New Zealand. The social costs of transport-related harmful air pollution are currently estimated at $1.21 billion per annum (in $2019) as a result of New Zealanders dying prematurely, being admitted to hospital or suffering days lost due to illness or poor health. Transport sources also emit direct or indirect climate pollutants. Transport-related greenhouse gas emissions add an additional $1.68 billion in social costs per annum (in $2019).

This report is the first step in addressing the research question: “What are the risks to public health associated with road, sea, rail and air travel including vessel emissions, dusty roads and vehicle emissions in New Zealand?” It draws on a stocktake and gap analysis of the current state of knowledge across various transportation sectors as at 30 June 2021.

Public Health Risks associated with Transport Emissions in NZ report [PDF, 1.9 MB]

From health sector waste minimisation towards a circular economy

Of the 1.47 billion tonnes of solid waste that is produced each year globally, 5.9 million tonnes (approx. 16,164 tonnes per day) are estimated to be a result of health care waste. This figure has increased year on year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has served as an extreme example of the challenges for sustainable health care waste. Aotearoa New Zealand's health care sector is estimated to contribute between 3% and 8% of national carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. For comparison, the UK and the USA emit 4% and 10%, respectively, of their national CO2e from health care. Efforts are required to reduce waste production, landfill use and unnecessary procurement costs that arise from district health board activities, thus realising financial, environmental, cultural, health, wellbeing and social benefits.

From Health Sector Waste Minimisation Towards a Circular Economy(external link)