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. It covers the key sources of particle and ozone pollution, and how geography and weather influence the concentration and dispersion of air pollution.

Air Pollution in the Sydney Basin

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. Current air quality monitoring in NSW shows that ambient concentrations of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are all consistently below the national air quality standards set in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (Ambient Air Quality NEPM) for these pollutants in most areas. However, concentrations of ground-level ozone in urban areas and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), 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.

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.

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

The National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (Ambient Air Quality NEPM) establishes national ambient air quality standards and a national framework for the monitoring and reporting of six common air pollutants. Jurisdictions are required to monitor and report against these standards. In December 2015 national environment Ministers varied the Ambient Air Quality NEPM to include more stringent reporting standards for particle pollution (PM2.5 and PM10).

The key changes to the Ambient Air Quality NEPM are:

  • Amendment of the status of the PM2.5 'advisory reporting standards' to 'standards'.
  • Inclusion of an annual average PM10 standard of 25µg/m3.
  • Inclusion of long-term targets for annual and 24-hr PM2.5.
  • Initiation of a nationally consistent approach to reporting population exposure to PM2.5.
  • Replacement of the '5-exceedance day' form of 24-hr standards with an 'exceptional event' rule.
  • Updated references to current Australian Standards methods for pollutant monitoring.

The impact statement and background documents for the variation of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM, public submissions on the proposal and Summary of Submissions can be found at the National Environment Protection Council's Proposed variation to the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure in relation to the standards for particles page.

Reporting standards for ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are currently under review together with the Ambient Air Quality NEPM monitoring protocols.

State of the Environment

Chapter 8 - Air Quality (PDF 548KB) of the New South Wales State of the Environment 2015 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: 17 October 2016