National Pollution Standards
Australia’s current air pollution standards are not strong enough to protect human health. Australian standards currently exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended thresholds and by international comparison, lag significantly. Much stricter standards have been adopted in most other countries, including the US, EU, and China.
Coal-fired power stations are the biggest sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in Australia. Ozone is a secondary pollutant that forms from NOx particles on hot sunny days. PM2.5 is another toxic secondary pollutant that forms from SO2 and NOx in the atmosphere. There is no safe level of exposure to these pollutants and there are harmful effects from exposure at levels well below the current air quality standards.
We know that at least 279 people die prematurely each year in NSW as a result of toxic air pollution from the state’s five coal-fired power stations. The health impacts also include 233 babies born with reduced birthweight, 361 people developing type 2 diabetes and 2,614 years of life lost each year due to uncontrolled air pollution from NSW power stations. The research has not yet been done – but the national number is likely to be extremely concerning.
An opportunity to improve national pollution standards
Environment Ministers are likely to come together in late 2019 to make a decision whether or not to vary the national air pollution standards for sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and ozone that were first adopted in 1998. The review process involves the Environment Ministers from all nine Australian state, territory and Commonwealth governments.
Our goal is for Ministers to set international best practice standards for ambient air concentrations of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and Ozone, which are consistent with, or stronger than, the relatively conservative World Health Organisation guidelines.
Australian people and communities expect to be able to breath clean air. This means best practice pollution control standards. Ministers need to listen to the community and know that there’s widespread interest in this decision.