By Benjamin Preiss
Victoria’s pollution watchdog has failed to properly monitor air quality across the state with many highly-populated centres going unchecked, a scathing review has found.
A report by the Victorian Auditor General has revealed the Environment Protection Authority was unable to show that its data collection truly reflected the air quality experienced in most Victorian communities.
The audit analysed EPA data monitoring between 2010 and 2016.
It identified 40 urban centres, using 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics data, that were not covered by the EPA’s air monitoring network.
“EPA’s limited air monitoring coverage does not provide it with information on air quality for most of the state, including many parts of metropolitan Melbourne,” the report says.
The authority is required to maintain at least one monitoring station in each urban centre with a population of at least 25,000 people.
But the Auditor General found the authority had failed to do so in some instances.
The EPA had “failed to provide a better understanding” of air quality outside of its monitoring locations in Melbourne, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley, the report shows.
It found that only limited air quality testing had been carried out in well-populated areas including Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, Warrnambool and Mildura.
The report also cites some instances where the EPA had used inaccurate assessments, which overstated air quality and could undermine confidence in the reported data.
The Auditor General made four recommendations for the EPA, including expanding its air monitoring network, improving its quality of reporting, working with councils to tackle air quality issues at the Brooklyn industrial precinct in Melbourne’s west and updating its knowledge on air quality.
The EPA has accepted all of the recommendations.
In a statement the authority said it was already carrying out “reform work” to improve air quality monitoring.
“The government has invested $162 million to provide Victorians with a modernised EPA well-equipped and resourced to address environment challenges, including air pollution,” it said.
In 2015 the EPA was forced to defend its equipment after it failed to produce accurate readings twice in a fortnight.
But the EPA’s regulation of air pollution had begun to improve and it had been developing programs to increase compliance, the audit found.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Nicola Rivers said the report reflected some long-held concerns about how the EPA monitored and managed air pollution in Victoria.
“Given [the] findings it is very hard to have confidence in the EPA when it says everything is fine on air pollution,” she said.
Published in The Age on 9 March 2018