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We've just heard that environment ministers from around Australia have announced weak new limits on particle pollution. With air pollution responsible for at least 3000 deaths each year in Australia, this response is simply not good enough.

We've just heard that environment ministers from around Australia have announced weak new limits on particle pollution.

With air pollution responsible for at least 3000 deaths each year in Australia, this response is simply not good enough. It does nothing to protect our health. It simply bows to the pressure created by the mining industry who put profits ahead of the health of communities struggling with air pollution

This announcement makes it clear that our regulatory system is broken. Just look at PM10, the larger of the dangerous particles considered. The science is clear that exposure to PM10 causes a range of respiratory illnesses. Environment ministers were advised by health experts, including the World Health Organisation, to adopt an annual average standard of 12, 16 or 20 micrograms per cubic metre – but today they've announced a much higher limit of 25!

The process can best be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ – the outcome reflects the position of the minister least in favour of pollution control. In this case, NSW environment minister Mark Speakman.

Australians needed strong action to limit the source of dangerous particle pollution. Instead, we got weak regulation that ensures the big polluters can continue with business as usual.

The ministers have signed off on a national Clean Air Agreement that fails to curb emissions from the nation’s most significant polluters – coal mines, uncovered coal trains and export terminals, coal-fired power stations, wood heaters and motor vehicles. The agreement is simply a collection of the inadequate programs that states already have in place.

NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman pushed hard for the least strict standards, including an annual PM10 standard that is less strict than any of the options proposed for consideration (25ug/m3 – the three options assessed in the Impact Statement were 12, 16 and 20ug/m3). This means coal mines – the major source of PM10 – will continue to operate under licence conditions that permit higher levels of dangerous air pollution than recommended by the World Health Organisation and other countries.

Coal mines are the nation’s single greatest source of PM10. Emissions from coal mines doubled in the last 5 years and trebled in the last decade, currently standing at 438,000 tonnes each year.

This lousy decision squandered a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reduce air pollution in Australia. The environment ministers have demonstrated without a doubt that the current system for air pollution control is broken and needs to be replaced.

What we need now is strong national leadership by the Commonwealth government and Greg Hunt to develop national laws that drive real improvement in standards to protect our health.

ADD YOUR VOICE to the call for a National Air Pollution Control Act.