Managing air quality

The EPA aims to ensure NSW air quality meets or is better than national and international standards, through legislation, monitoring, guidelines and strategies.

  • Air quality in NSW is generally good by international standards and has been steadily improving.
  • Concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO), lead, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) are all consistently below national air quality standards set in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (Ambient Air Quality NEPM) in most areas.
  • Concentrations of ozone (O3) in urban areas and particles (PM10 and PM2.5) in both rural and urban areas can sometimes be above national standards.

Air quality is consistently a key environmental issue for NSW residents, as shown in the latest Who cares about the environment in 2015?

Between 2012 and 2015, the EPA led a review of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM. The result was the adoption of the most stringent national standards for fine particles in the world.

Environment Ministers from all states and territories agreed to vary the Ambient Air Quality NEPM to

  • adopt an annual-average standard of 8 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) and a 24-hour standard of 25 μg/m3 for PM2.5 fine particles
  • initiate a nationally consistent approach to reporting population exposure to PM2.5
  • include an annual average standard for PM10 particles of 25 μg/m3
  • replace the five-day exceedance rule of the PM10 standard with an ‘exceptional events rule’ which also applies to the 24-hour PM2.5 standard
  • initiate a nationally consistent approach to reporting population exposure to PM2.5.

Under review are

  • reporting standards for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3)
  • Ambient Air Quality NEPM monitoring protocols

Find out more about

As part of its role, the EPA works to reduce air emissions from premises it licenses. The LBL scheme and pollution reduction programs support industries in reducing air pollutant emissions, such as oxides of nitrogen, particles, volatile organic compounds, chlorine, dioxins, furans and heavy metals which arise from industrial activities and plant. 

Some major EPA initiatives under way

  • Leading the Clean Air for NSW strategy - the NSW Government’s 10-year plan to improve air quality across the state includes initiatives relating to industry, transport vehicles and fuels, household emissions, monitoring and forecasting air quality and climate policy co-benefit actions.
  • The Sydney Particle Characterisation Study involved analysis of existing PM2.5 datasets for four Sydney sampling sites. Positive Matrix Factorisation (PMF) source apportionment was undertaken based on samples collected at Lucas Heights, Richmond, Mascot and Liverpool over a 15 year period (2000-2014). 
  • Administering the Interagency Taskforce on Air Quality in NSW that develops cross government recommendations and actions to improve air quality standards, and coordinates communication of government actions to manage significant air quality issues in NSW.
  • Managing the Diesel and Marine Emissions Management Strategy that sets out measures to reduce emissions from non-road diesel equipment, such as construction and coal mining equipment, locomotives and shipping.
  • Managing particles and improving air quality in NSW - a strategy to reduce particle pollution from sources such as coal mines, non-road diesel machinery, shipping and wood smoke. Read about other programs to reduce particle pollution.
  • Reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds from petrol through vapour recovery controls, with 96% of designated service stations having Stage 1 vapour recovery equipment by 30 June 2016.
  • Coordinating the Interim NOx Policy for Cogeneration in Sydney and the Illawarra (PDF ) that sets out a policy framework for managing emissions of ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide from gas-fired cogeneration and trigeneration facilities.
  • Managing the Dust Stop program that aims to ensure coal mines implement the most reasonable and feasible particulate control options. The program is being implemented through a series of pollution reduction programs attached to each coal mine licence.
  • Managing and updating the Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR) in NSW which informs the community about emissions and their sources for hundreds of different air pollutants in the GMR, where about 75% of the NSW population lives.
  • Coordinating or contributing to various air quality studies to add to evidence and improve knowledge related to air quality and its impacts, for use in future planning decisions and to inform policy development.
  • Managing the load-based licensing scheme and pollution reduction programs to support industries in reducing emissions.
Diagram showing vapour recovery at a service station

The graphic shows ways in which Stage 1 Vapour Recovery reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds from petrol.

Working with other agencies and local communities enables the EPA to make more informed decisions. The EPA values the knowledge state agencies, local government, representative groups and local communities bring to the content and direction of policies and strategies.

The EPA regularly works with

The Local Government Air Quality toolkit provides local councils with information on

  • the sources and impacts of air pollution
  • the regulatory framework for protecting air quality in NSW
  • air quality management procedures and technologies

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