Australians die while ministers delay action on air pollution

On 15 July, Australian state, territory and Commonwealth environment ministers met to determine whether they would adopt proposed new air pollution standards.

It’s been a long time coming. Australians have been asking for better air pollution standards for 15 years now.

After deliberating for almost a year and receiving several thousand submissions supporting stricter standards, the answer was….nothing.

With air pollution killing 3000 Australians every year, and tens of thousands more suffering health effects, this consistent lack of action shows why we urgently need strong national laws in the form of a Clean Air Act.

In Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, toxic clouds of smoke from last year’s coal mine fire caused terrible suffering, showing the potential hazards of health damage from coal pollution.

Ministers have received thousands of emails, letters and other representations from constituents who support cleaner air.

It has been suggested that lobbying by the Australian Minerals Council may be slowing the process of protecting the air we breathe, but so far ministers have not commented to confirm or deny this.

The ministers’ failure to reach a decision today lets down Australia’s children. Approximately 1130 children under 14 are admitted to hospital each year due to exposure to short term coarse particle (PM10) exposure.

At the same time, approximately 1590 Australians die prematurely each year from long term fine particle (PM2.5), much of which comes from coal-fired power stations.

Our economy also suffers from air pollution. The health costs of air pollution in Australia have been estimated to be up to $24.3 billion annually, solely as a result of deaths.

Australia’s primary source of PM10 emissions is coal mines, with coal terminals and coal-fired power stations also significant contributors. Ministers were due to decide on stricter standards that would require effective pollution controls in coal-affected communities like the Latrobe and Hunter valleys.

This delay shows that our current system of complex and bureaucratic air pollution standards is failing. Governments at all levels have been dithering about creating a standard for particle pollution for 15 years now, while other countries have adopted stricter standards.

Further reading

Environmental Justice Australia backgrounder on the Variation of Australia’s particle pollution standards

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