A Hawke's Bay medical expert says two people per year could be dying earlier than expected in Wairoa due to poor air quality.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council has raised concerns over Wairoa's winter air quality after the town exceeded national air quality standards twice last year.
Air quality monitoring in Wairoa over the past two years has seen the town exceed national air quality standards once in 2019 and twice in 2020.
Council air quality scientist Dr Kathleen Kozyniak said the progressively declining air quality during winter has raised concerns, with burning rubbish a big contributor to the poor air quality.
"There are lots of factors that make our air unhealthy, and in Wairoa we're seeing this mainly caused by household rubbish being burnt, which sends toxins into the air."
Kozyniak said the best thing the public can do to help is stop burning rubbish.
"Make sure your fire is up to spec and you're only putting dry wood or paper in it.
"If you're burning outside, make sure you're only burning vegetation, untreated timber, cardboard and paper, and the smoke isn't a nuisance for your neighbour."
Hawke's Bay District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Nick Jones said clean air is fundamental to the health of all in the area.
"Outdoor air pollution can cause cancer, contribute to heart and lung disease, hospital admissions and can even lead to early death," he said.
"Based on international experience and New Zealand air quality data, two people per year could be dying earlier than expected in Wairoa due to poor air quality."
However, Wairoa mayor Craig Little said he's unaware of any major air quality issues.
"There will be times when everyone has their fireplaces going, but I've heard no cases of anybody complaining about it," he said.
Wairoa District Council group manager planning and regulatory services Simon Mutonhori said poorer air quality has an impact on the hauora (health) of whānau and the community.
"We're worried about the impact poor air quality is having on our Wairoa community. If air quality isn't good enough, for example, it can make asthma or any respiratory conditions worse, or even lead to something more serious," he said.
"Wairoa has one of the worst numbers of people with respiratory issues in New Zealand, and having poor air quality year after year is only going to make that worse. We need to come together as a community and figure out how we can fix this issue."
Jones said those most likely to be affected by air pollution are children, especially those with asthma, older people and those with pre-existing conditions.
"When air quality is really poor, it is recommended not to go outside and exercise, particularly if you are in a higher-risk group.
"Data from 2016 suggested that there were about two and a half days a year when air quality in Wairoa would meet that threshold."
Council urged the public to report smoke sightings on 06 838 7309 or via the HBRC Pollution Hotline on 0800 108 838.