Media release

Brooklyn fire exposes inadequate monitoring of toxic air pollution in Melbourne

October 20, 2015


Environmental Justice Australia’s Clean Air Lawyer, Philip Hill says, “yesterday’s huge fire at a Brooklyn scrap metal yard was attended by over a dozen fire trucks, but we have confirmation that the EPA was not able to respond until today”.

“Melbourne has only three long-term air quality monitoring stations in Melbourne’s inner west. This makes it very difficult for the EPA to pursue compliance or prosecution responses to preventable fires or other major air pollution events, without an urgent EPA response in real-time,” Mr Hill said.

“It appears unlikely that the EPA would be in a position to collect evidence of how much toxic pollution was produced by yesterday’s fire 24 hours after the event.

“The EPA’s air pollution website provides inadequate access to data and interpretive information for public servants or members of the community.

“All of this exposes the need for nationally-consistent air pollution standards that provide a basis for enforcement of toxic emission standards – not just monitoring and reporting”, Mr Hill said.

Environmental Justice Australia Researcher Dr James Whelan explained that “PM2.5 is microscopic inhalable airborne particles up to 2.5 micrometres in diameter.  It is agreed among health officials and government to be one of the most harmful air pollutants – proven by many health studies to cause premature death, hospital admissions and asthma attacks.  PM2.5 is not consistently monitored at all of the Victorian EPA’s monitoring stations, and is not monitored in Brooklyn, the site of yesterday’s fire.”

“In other states, such as NSW, the government has established an automated system that delivers alerts of elevated pollution levels via SMS or email to registered residents, many of whom register to receive these alerts because they suffer from respiratory illnesses such as asthma or because they live near pollution sources,” Dr Whelan said.

“Sometimes elevated air pollution levels warrant health warnings beyond the simple ‘stay indoors and don’t use your air conditioner’ warning issued in Melbourne’s inner west yesterday. What level of air pollution does the Victorian government need to monitor before people are advised, instead, to leave the suburb?

“In December, environment ministers from around the country are meeting to decide on a Clean Air Agreement that will form the basis for nationally consistent standards.  We call on all ministers to take action to protect the community and support strict, enforceable air pollution standards.”

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