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Have your say on better air quality standards for Australia

Patricia from Mackay Conservation Group is an active part of a national campaign for better air quality standards in Australia. From our friends at Nature Conservation Council of NSW:

Air pollution makes us sick. Stricter standards must be set and enforced to protect the 3,000 Australians who die prematurely from air pollution each year and the many thousands more who suffer ongoing health impacts. 


Right now, Australia’s environment ministers are considering new pollution standards that would better protect our most polluted communities and most vulnerable community members.

Have your say by sending an email or submission to the Environment Ministers. Follow this easy online email form here:

If you want to do a more detailed submission, click Read More to be taken to a more detailed submission guide.

For Oct 10th!

NEPM AAQ variation 2014 - Guide for submissions on new Air Quality Standards


The aim of this document is to assist preparation of submissions to the NEPM AAQ variation for people and organisations concerned with the health and environmental impacts of air pollution. Points have been contributed by Environmental Justice Australia, Nature Conservation Council of NSW and Doctors for the Environment Australia.


Given annual PM10 particulate emissions are above or close to the national recommended standard in Mackay, and smaller PM2.5 particulates will continue to rise as the town grows and coal exports increase it is important that these reforms recommended in the2009 review of the National Environment (Air Quality) Measures be implemented.

MCG is preparing a submission and points are belowto use  if you can put in a small submission as well. Email to [email protected]

by this Friday 10th October especially the items in Point 1.

Contact Patricia Julien if you have questions [email protected]

4953 0808 Tues & Wed or 4966 8025.


Draft Variation to the National Environment protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure Impact Statement

Key points


New standards for particle pollution:

A national standard for fine particle pollution (PM2.5) is important and long overdue. We strongly support the adoption of the PM10 annual standard of 20ug/m3 and 24-hour standard of 40ug/m3, and the strictest possible standards for PM2.5, because, as explained on page xi of the impact statement “The greatest proportion (>99%) of the health costs accrue from avoiding premature deaths due to long-term exposure to PM2.5.”.

Making the annual average PM2.5 standard a compliance rather than an advisory standard of 8ug/m3. Science tells us that there is no safe level of PM2.5, so the lowest achievable level should be chosen as the standard. Achieving 6 ug/m3 would reduce the estimated 1590 deaths in Sydney, Melbourne, SE Qld and Perth attributed to PM2.5 pollution by 34%[1], avoiding about 700 premature deaths to Australians.  As well as specifying standards, the NEPM should include formal adoption of the $8.8 billion of economically-feasible measures identified in the NEPC economic analysis to drive exposure even lower. Added to the $8.8 billion of economically feasible measures noted above, a net benefit of all measures for the whole country of about $24 billion could be achieved, as well as compliance within 7-10 years of a PM2.5 standard of 6 ug/m3.

Making the 24 hour PM2.5 standard a compliance standard of 20 ug/m3 rather than an advisory standard. This is long overdue. The levels of 25ug/m3 or 20ug/m3 are proposed in the impact statement, although the draft NEPM variation itself lists 25ug/m3, 20ug/m3 should be adopted. The impact statement shows that 20ug/m3 is already being achieved at most monitoring sites on most days and so is achievable (p70). Reducing the peak exposures would have health benefits of fewer hospitalisations and less exacerbations of respiratory symptoms.

Establishing an annual standard for PM10 of 20 μg/m3. There is good scientific argument for an annual PM10 standard on the basis of exacerbation of lung disease, reduction in lung function in both adults and children. There is no evidence that these risks are removed by controlling annual average PM2.5. WHO guidelines are for a 20 μg/m3 annual mean.

Improving the 24 hour standard for PM10 to 40 μg/m3. The impact statement notes that on average the current standard of 50ug/m3 is being achieved (p69) and that a tightening of the standard could encourage future improvements in air quality (p70).

Timeline for implementation: The draft NEPM variation (Part 2 Section 6) suggests allowing up to ten years for jurisdictions to comply with the standards. This ‘moratorium’ is unacceptable. State regulators should do everything within their powers to ensure compliance from the commencement of the NEPM, and further achieving an annual PM2.5 standard of 6 μg/m3 within 7-10 years, to avoid another 700 premature deaths every year.

The cleanest air possible: There is no threshold below which particle pollution has no adverse impact. Health experts are universally critical of the practice of managing ‘up to’ the national standards. The objective of the proposed NEPM is “ambient air quality that allows for the adequate protection of human health and well-being.” The expression “adequate” is open to interpretation and does not create a basis for a strong regulatory framework. The objective should be “ambient air quality that protects human health and well-being to the greatest extent feasible.”

Exposure reduction framework is needed: An exposure reduction framework is proposed in section 7.7 of the impact statement but it does not appear in the draft NEPM variation itself. As the science is well established that current exposure is causing health problems, long term targets to decrease the exposure should be adopted.

The need for a national Air Pollution Prevention Act: Australia’s current policies and laws to prevent and control air pollution, including the Ambient Air NEPM, are failing. The national air pollution standards adopted in 1998 are breached regularly, particularly in coal-affected communities. A stronger set of policies and laws are required to protect community health. The NEPM variation is a welcome but inadequate step toward effective air pollution laws. National air pollution laws are needed as a priority.

Community involvement: For too long, community members and groups have been locked out of the policy process for developing, implementing and reviewing air pollution standards. Industry groups have been much more actively engaged than non-government groups and individuals. A protocol for community involvement should be negotiated and adopted, along the lines of the protocol that guided community involvement in the initial development of the NEPMs for Ambient Air and the National Pollutant Inventory.

Access to comprehensive and timely monitoring data: The NEPM should require state regulators (EPAs) to ensure easy and timely access to monitoring data including data from both EPA and industry monitoring. In the absence of meaningful enforcement action by state regulators, community access to data is often the main driver to reduce pollution. In many parts of Australia, monitoring data is difficult, expensive or impossible to access. The simplest arrangement would be the creation of one website where community members could access monitoring data from all states and regions in a standardised format. The NSW EPA air quality monitoring website is an excellent model for this. The monitoring plans and annual reports referred to in the draft NEPM variation (p.8, 10) should also be publicly available on a coordinated national webpage.

Consequences for non-compliance: The major weakness in Australia’s current national air pollution standards is that there is no meaningful consequence for non-compliance. The United States Clean Air Act empowers state regulators and the US EPA to impose meaningful consequences, including controls and penalties that become stricter when non-compliance persists. In Australia, by contrast, polluters are routinely licenced in airsheds where the national pollution standards are already exceeded.  The NEPM variation currently fails to address this short-coming in any meaningful way.

Australia’s federated policy processes: Institutional arrangements for developing, implementing and monitoring Australia’s air pollution control laws are failing. The Council of Australian Government’s Standing Committee on Environment and Water (SCEW) was disbanded in December 2013 and no alternative arrangement has been put in place. The National Environment Protection Council is under-resourced to the extent that it has inadequate capacity to manage this consultation. One consequence of these short-comings is that the NEPM review has been stalled for years and the national Clean Air Action Plan (or Agreement) has been postponed despite its agreed urgency. A strong and proactive approach to air pollution prevention requires robust and well-resourced institutional arrangements capable of decisive policy intervention.

Protecting human health in small communities: The NEPM currently exempts smaller population centres with less than 25,000 residents from monitoring and reporting obligations. Monitoring by population size alone is not adequate protection. This is particularly important for people whose health is threatened by industrial activity setting up close to established residential areas of smaller populations.  There should be stronger requirements for monitoring in small towns or suburbs where there is reason to believe the NEPM standards are being exceeded. The NEPM should require monitoring and reporting for both PM2.5 and PM10 in population centres of 5000 or more, or perhaps even smaller populations, if it is likely that the standards will be exceeded.  Portable PM2.5 monitors (e.g. the Tasmanian ‘Travel BLANkET’[2]) can be used to help identify smaller communities with high pollution levels.

The NEPM should also provide clear direction to States on the matter of where to monitor rather than leaving this to the discretion of state regulators (e.g. the draft NEPM variation states “additional performance monitoring stations may be needed” (p.9) but leaves it up the jurisdiction to determine whether to do so). An exposure reduction and continuous improvement model is recommended for all exposed populations.

The proposed variation is only part of the solution. Air pollution regulation must go further to protect the health of all Australians. Australia needs national clean air legislation as a matter of priority under the leadership of the Commonwealth.  Ideally, polluters-pays taxes should be used to ensure polluters cover the health costs of their pollution. The lack of such taxes is forcing the general community to subsidize polluting activities.

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