Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Air - NSW overview

Air - NSW overview

Sources of air emissions

Air pollution comes from many sources, so to find the best ways to improve air quality we need to know the contribution made by each source. While urban and regional air pollution arises from a combination of natural, commercial business, domestic activity, industrial premises, motor vehicle and off-road vehicles and equipment emissions, the contributions vary according to location.

This short animation explains air pollution in the Sydney Basin. It covers the key sources of particle and ozone pollution, and how geography and weather influence the concentration and dispersion of air pollution.

NOx and VOC are photochemical smog precursors and when emitted in the presence of sunlight they undergo a series of complex reactions that cause photochemical smog to form. Ground-level ozone is an indicator of photochemical smog, which is characterised by a white atmospheric haze during the warmer months of the year.

 PM10 and PM2.5 emissions are responsible for primary particulate matter pollution, which is characterised by a brown atmospheric haze during the cooler months of the year. NOx, VOC, SO2 and ammonia react in the atmosphere to form secondary organic aerosols, nitrate and sulfate compounds, which are collectively known as secondary particulate matter pollution. Fine particulate matter pollution is made up of both primary emissions and secondary organic and inorganic aerosols, which are formed through atmospheric reactions.

Diagram showing various sources of pollution and where they affect the environment

The air emissions inventory provides a detailed snapshot of the major sources of air pollution in the NSW greater metropolitan region (GMR).

Who Cares About the Environment?

In Who Cares About the Environment in 2012?, EPA community research has consistently found air quality to be a key environmental issue for NSW residents.

This short video is about air quality in NSW and in particular the Hunter Valley region. It provides an overview of air quality with information on emissions and where they come from, air quality monitoring, particulate matter and its effects on health and well-being.

Ambient air quality

Many substances in the air may impair human health, as well as the health of plants and animals, and reduce visibility.

Air quality in NSW is generally good by international standards and has been steadily improving over time. In 1998, ambient air quality standards and goals for six common pollutants were included in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (Ambient Air Quality NEPM). Current and Projected Air Quality in NSW shows that ambient concentrations of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are all consistently below the respective national standards in most areas. However, concentrations of ground-level ozone in urban areas and particulate matter (PM10)), in both rural and urban areas can exceed national standards.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) operates a comprehensive air quality monitoring network to provide the community with accurate and up-to-date information about air quality. Data from the monitoring network is presented online as ambient concentrations and air quality index (AQI) values which are updated hourly and stored in a database. Anyone may access the database using online search tools.

During 2010, OEH, in partnership with the Upper Hunter coal and power industries, established the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network (UHAQMN). In 2014, the Newcastle Local Air Quality Monitoring Network (NLAQMN) has been established to provide additional information on the current air quality in Newcastle.

Air quality monitoring maps
Graph depicting air quality values

You can either view updated hourly ambient concentrations, AQI values or search and download historical air quality data where you live.

Review of the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards for particles

The National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) has released an Impact Statement on a proposal to vary the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) standards for particles. The AAQ NEPM establishes national ambient air quality standards and a national framework for the monitoring and reporting of six common air pollutants (including airborne particles), and sets the national air quality standards and goals for each of these pollutants (advisory reporting standards only for PM2.5) that jurisdictions monitor and report against. The AAQ NEPM aims to guide policy formulation that allows for the adequate protection of human health and wellbeing.

On 29 April 2014, Environment Ministers signalled their intent to vary the Ambient Air Quality NEPM based on the latest scientific understanding of the health risks arising from airborne particle pollution. The variation to the Ambient Air Quality NEPM seeks to establish a more stringent reporting standard for particle pollution (PM2.5 and PM10).

The public consultation period for the Impact Statement and draft varied measure is now closed.

Submissions are currently being considered as part of the development of a final proposal to vary the Ambient Air Quality NEPM.

State of the Environment

Chapter 2 - Atmosphere of the New South Wales State of the Environment 2012 report provides a comprehensive report on ambient air quality and sources of air emissions.

Cleaner environmental practices

The EPA encourages and supports industry and the broader community to adopt cleaner environmental practices using a range of tools, including: clean air regulations; and other initiatives including policies, programs and educational material.

NSW clean air legislation

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) provides the statutory framework for managing air emissions in NSW. It is supported by:

NSW EPA initiatives

Page last updated: 19 May 2016