In April 2021, state and federal environment ministers finally met to revise Australia’s outdated national air pollution standards. The decision, delayed two years, comes after a lengthy ten–year process including a review of air pollution standards, a proposal for a variation of standards for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ozone (O3), and a public consultation process in which we mobilised 18,000 submissions from community, environment and health groups. The 18,000 submissions overwhelmingly supported a move to health-based standards, reflecting strong evidence from mounting research about the serious health impacts of air pollution.
Unfortunately, the new standards have been set at levels that won’t reduce pollution. This is a bad outcome for all of us who worked so hard to push for health-based standards.
Studies including the Australian Child Health and Air Pollution Study, which was commissioned by the committee of Ministers to provide evidence for this standard-setting process, strongly support the need for standards that require pollution control measures for coal-fired power stations and motor vehicles to minimise health impacts.
Despite health advice, the new 24-hour standard for SO2 is almost three times higher than recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Similarly, the new annual standard for NO2 is set at a level 25 percent higher than the highest recorded annual concentrations of NO2 pollution in Australia, ensuring that the standard is set too high to drive any reduction in pollution. Yet we know health impacts are happening at current air pollution levels.
So, rather than choosing standards that minimise health impacts on the community – which is the stated purpose of these standards – ministers have chosen less ambitious standards so that polluting industries will not have to invest in pollution control technologies.
Together with our alliance of health advocates from Asthma Australia, The Lung Foundation, Doctors for the Environment, Healthy Futures, The Royal Australian College of Physicians, and the Climate and Health Alliance, EJA has responded to the new standards in the media.
What can governments do to control air pollution and protect public health?
The National Pollutant Inventory data and the outcome of the National Standards review are a real wake up call, and a line in the sand on air pollution. It’s time governments made polluters such as coal-fired power stations clean up their act. We won’t stand for further inaction.
We still have an opportunity to secure strong air pollution regulation as part of the NSW Clean Air Strategy and Victorian Air Quality Strategy.
We will continue to advocate and lobby for the People’s Clean Air Action Plans to inform these regulatory strategies at the state level in NSW and Victoria.
Now we need to get a copy of the People’s Clean Air Action Plans on the desk of every member of parliament in NSW and Victoria.
How can I get involved?
Help us share the People’s Clean Air Action Plan with your environment minister, member of parliament, and through the media.