Right now, federal and state governments are considering whether to improve national air pollution standards.
The focus is on particulate pollution, known as PM10 (coarse particles) and PM2.5 (fine particles). Particles can come from lots of different sources but the pollution sources that are the most worrying from a health perspective include coal dust, diesel exhaust and wood smoke.
Public submissions on the governments’ proposal were sent in to governments in October last year, but the submissions were only publicly released on 23rd December.
There is absolutely no justification for a delay like this. Were governments hoping that by delaying their release people would forget the process was happening?
Our analysis of submissions has revealed exactly what we were expecting – of the 593 submissions that were publicly available, 94% support stronger standards and/or stronger regulation. Over 90% of submissions called for stronger national standards for PM2.5 and PM10 to be adopted now.
A number of industry groups and companies were against stronger standards. Industry arguments for this include that only urban areas should be covered by the standards, despite the high number of mining and industrial facilities in regional areas (Australian Paper); and that higher standards would unfairly burden Australian industry (Australian Sustainable Business Group). Australian Sustainable Business Group also makes the dubious claim that toxic substances in small doses are actually beneficial to human health, and therefore pollution levels should not be reduced. (Australian Sustainable Business Group refer to themselves as Australia’s leading environment and energy industry representative body.)
Federal and State governments must now decide what to do.
Will they recognise the irrefutable health impacts that particulate pollution causes and improve national standards for the benefit of community health?
Or will they bow to industry pressure to leave standards as they are or make only weak changes?
Given the long history of delay and inaction by the National Environment Protection Council (ie our Federal and State governments) who set the standards, the most likely outcome is that nothing will happen at all and yet another opportunity to improve the health of thousands of Australians will be lost.
Ultimately we need a new system, not the broken National Environment Protection Measure system.
With air pollution killing around 3000 Australians every year, we urgently need national air pollution prevention laws that will ensure that all communities, both urban and rural are protected from all forms of harmful air pollution.
We’ll be doing everything we can to achieve that in 2015.