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New South Wales State of the Environment
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SoE 2009 > Atmosphere > 4.1 Air quality

Chapter 4: Atmosphere

4.1 Air quality

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4.1 Air quality

New South Wales consistently complies with national air quality standards for four of six major 'criteria' air pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead). However the state still faces major challenges from ozone and particle pollution. Levels of air toxics are generally low, with ongoing assessment to verify they remain at acceptable levels.

There have been significant improvements in air quality in NSW since the 1980s with initiatives to reduce air pollution implemented across industry, business, homes and motor vehicles. Concentrations of many of the most dangerous air pollutants are low and have been reduced by nearly 30%. Concentrations of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead are low and stable and consistently meet national air quality standards.

Ground-level ozone (a key component of photochemical smog which appears as white haze in the summer months) remains an issue for Sydney, with emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds contributing to its formation. With overall emissions from motor vehicles and commercial, industrial and domestic activities relatively stable, ground-level ozone has shown no significant increase nor any overall decline since the mid-1990s and concentrations continue to exceed national air quality standards on a number of days each year.

Particle pollution (appearing as brown haze in the cooler months) generally meets standards in Sydney except when bushfires or dust storms occur. Parts of regional NSW, however, face a considerable challenge in meeting the particle standards with bushfires, stubble burning, dust storms and woodheaters the major emission sources in these areas.

The major sources of air pollution are being addressed through a range of policies and programs.

The NSW Government investigated 81 air toxics between 1996 and 2001 and found ambient concentrations of most were very low and well below international goals. NSW commenced monitoring at two sites in Sydney (Rozelle and Turella) in October 2008 to verify that the five pollutants covered by the Air Toxics NEPM (benzene, toluene, xylenes, formaldehyde and benzo(α)pyrene), along with 1,3-butadiene, remain at acceptable levels.

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NSW indicators

Indicator and status


Information availability

Concentrations of carbon monoxide

No change


Concentrations of ozone

No change


Concentrations of lead

No change


Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide

No change


Concentrations of sulfur dioxide

No change


Concentrations of particles (PM10)

No change


Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2009 at the front of the report.

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Clean air is fundamental to everyone's wellbeing: poor air quality can be particularly critical to the health of children and older people, as well as affecting the natural environment and liveability of the communities in which we work and reside.

An air pollutant is any substance in the air that can harm humans or the environment. Pollutants arise from both natural processes, such as dust storms, and human (anthropogenic) activities, and may take the form of solid particles, liquid droplets or gases.

Air pollutants may be classified as primary or secondary. A primary pollutant is a substance directly emitted from a process, such as carbon monoxide gas from a motor vehicle exhaust. Secondary pollutants form in the air when primary pollutants react or interact. An example of a secondary pollutant is ground-level ozone, one of the many secondary pollutants that make up photochemical smog. Some pollutants may be both primary and secondary; examples include particles and nitrogen dioxide.

The status and trend of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are discussed in the Climate Change Chapter.

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The costs of poor air quality

Air pollution is a persistent health concern in major cities in Australia and around the world. Those particularly susceptible to the health impacts of air pollution are the very young (because they are generally more active outdoors and their lungs are still developing), the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Since the early 1990s a substantial body of research has been published about the adverse health effects of air pollution. The research suggests that air pollution at the relatively low levels common in many urban environments of industrialised countries is a risk factor for health. An increasing range of adverse health effects has been linked to air pollution, especially particles.

Short-term exposure to fine particles exacerbates existing respiratory and cardiovascular problems and increases the risk of symptoms, hospitalisation and death. Long-term exposure increases the risk of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease and death, has an impact on birth weight, and can permanently affect lung development in children (Pope 2004).

The health costs of air pollution at the levels applying in the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR2) in 2005 were estimated to be $4.7 billion or $893 per head of population (DEC 2005). Looking at just motor traffic pollution, the Federal Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics recently estimated health costs of $3.3 billion per year in the country's capital cities with Sydney's share $1.5 billion (BTRE 2005).

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Defining the major pollutants

A range of air pollutants is commonly found across many parts of Australia. Certain key air pollutants that are regulated or subject to standards based on criteria related to health and/or environmental effects are known as 'criteria' air pollutants.

To help protect the health of the Australian population, the National Environment Protection Council in 1998 set ambient air quality standards and goals for six criteria pollutants in the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality (AAQ NEPM). The six pollutants in the AAQ NEPM are ozone, particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead. The standards and goals in the AAQ NEPM are currently under review with final recommendations about any adjustments to them expected in 2010–2011.

To measure compliance, NSW has a comprehensive air quality monitoring and reporting capability that more than meets the requirements of the AAQ NEPM (EPA 2001).

State Plan 2006: A new direction for NSW (NSW Government 2006) identifies cleaner air as a priority and sets a target to meet the AAQ NEPM goals (Priority E3). A review of State Plan 2006 commenced in August 2009 and this may adjust some of the plan's priorities and targets.

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Status and trends

The AAQ NEPM goal for each pollutant sets the maximum number of days on which a relevant standard (a specified concentration of the pollutant) may be exceeded. NSW consistently meets the goals for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead. Ozone and particles continue to be problematic.

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Ozone is present in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) and the lower atmosphere (troposphere). The ozone in the stratosphere (the 'ozone layer') protects human, animal and plant health by reducing the levels of damaging UV-B radiation reaching the Earth's surface. In contrast, ozone at ground level is an air pollutant that is harmful to human health and vegetation. People exposed to elevated concentrations of ozone for several hours at a time are at increased risk from respiratory irritation and changes in lung function, particularly if they are already suffering a respiratory illness (WHO 1998).

In the lower atmosphere, ozone is formed by the reaction of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in warm, sunny conditions. Elevated ozone concentrations occur in the Sydney and Illawarra regions when meteorological conditions and the surrounding topography do not allow the NOx and VOC constituents to disperse. Ozone concentrations across Sydney and the Illawarra can be significantly affected by weather patterns: cloudy cool weather tends to lead to low levels, while hot sunny days result in more exceedences (DECC 2007a).

The AAQ NEPM sets two standards for ozone: a 1-hour standard of 0.10 parts per million (ppm) and a 4-hour standard of 0.08 ppm. The goal is that by 2008 these standards would be exceeded on no more than one day per year.

While 2008 was generally a good year for air quality in Sydney, either or both of these ozone standards have been exceeded on more than one day every year since 1996 (Figure 4.1). In particular, between 1994 and 2008, ozone concentrations in Sydney exceeded the 4-hour standard on up to 21 days, dropping to two exceedence days in 2008. For the same period, exceedences of the 1-hour standard occurred on up to 19 days, with one exceedence day in 2008. Peak exceedences for both standards occurred in 2001.

Over the same period the standards were exceeded less frequently in the Illawarra, occurring on up to seven days per year for both standards (Figure 4.1). Either or both of the AAQ NEPM ozone standards were exceeded in the Illawarra on more than one day in 1994, 1997, 1998 and 2000–04. The lower Hunter region recorded the fewest exceedences of the standards with none since 2004.

While all parts of Sydney can experience ozone concentrations above the AAQ NEPM standards at some time, the west and south-west of the city are the regions most often exposed (DECC 2007a).

Figure 4.1: Exceedences of the AAQ NEPM standards for ozone, 1994–2008, GMR2

Figure 4.1

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Source: DECCW data 2009

Note: The majority of the 1-hour and 4-hour ozone exceedences occur as single-day events. Thus, if more than one monitoring site exceeded the standard on a particular day, that day is counted only once.

Figure 4.2 shows the maximum recorded concentrations of ozone for each region from 1994 to 2008. Over the period, maximum concentrations have been highest in Sydney and lowest in the lower Hunter.

Figure 4.2: Annual maximum 1-hour-average and 4-hour-average concentrations for ozone, 1994–2008, GMR2

Figure 4.2

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Source: DECCW data 2009

No notable trends are discernible in either the number of exceedences or maximum concentrations. The number of days when ozone standards are exceeded in any given year is strongly dependent on meteorology, which varies from year to year. A statistical analysis to filter out most of the meteorological variability shows ozone concentrations in Sydney are not decreasing and may actually be on a slight upward trend (Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3: Long-term trend of daily maximum 1-hour-average and 4-hour-average concentrations for ozone, 1994–2006, Sydney Region

Figure 4.3

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Source: DECC 2007a

Notes: The trend is derived from a statistical analysis which removes major variations due to meteorology and presents the variation in the trend in ambient ozone concentration relative to the data average.

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Even relatively low concentrations of particle pollution can cause health impacts in some individuals (WHO 2003). The concentration, chemical composition and size of the particles are important, and these can vary greatly between sources, regions and seasons. Epidemiological studies have shown associations between particle pollution and health effects. Particles smaller than 10 micrometres (µm) in diameter (PM10) are consistently associated with increased mortality and hospital admissions for people with both heart and lung disease (Morgan et al. 1998a; Morgan et al. 1998b; Simpson et al. 2005a; Simpson et al. 2005b). Research has demonstrated a strong link between chest colds in children and PM10 in the Hunter and Illawarra (Lewis et al. 1998) and long-term exposure to air pollution, including particles, has been linked to reduced life expectancy (Pope et al. 2002).

The AAQ NEPM sets a standard for PM10 of 50 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) (24-hour-average). The goal is that by 2008 this standard would not be exceeded on more than five days per year, thus making an allowance for the occurrence of extreme events, such as dust storms, bushfires and hazard reduction burning.

The national standard for PM10 is generally being met in Sydney, the Illawarra and the lower Hunter except in years with bushfires or dust storms (Figure 4.4). Bushfires in 1994 and 2001–03 were major contributors to the extremely high concentrations of particle pollution recorded in GMR2 in those years. The number of exceedences varies greatly from year to year as shown by the marked drop in 2004. There is a strong seasonality in PM10 levels in GMR2 with the majority of exceedences occurring in spring and summer (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.4: Exceedences of the AAQ NEPM standard for particles (PM10), 1994–2008, GMR2

Figure 4.4

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Source: DECCW data 2009

Figure 4.5: Seasonal distribution of PM10 exceedence days, 1994–2008, GMR2

Figure 4.5

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Source: DECCW data 2009

The national goal for PM10 is not being met in some regional centres. PM10 concentrations are monitored in Albury (NSW–Victoria border), Bathurst (Central Tablelands), Tamworth (North-West Slopes) and Wagga Wagga (South-West Slopes). In 2003 none of these regional cities met the PM10 goal of no more than five exceedences in a year (Figure 4.6). Albury, Bathurst and Tamworth achieved the goal in some of the years shown. However Wagga Wagga failed to meet the goal throughout the period, particularly because of conditions associated with the prolonged drought and local agricultural burning practices. Elevated particle concentrations recorded at Albury and Wagga Wagga in January 2003 were the result of major bushfires in Canberra and NSW, and both also felt the impact of bushfires in Victoria in the summer of 2006–07. The levels recorded at these regional centres are generally representative of the air quality in the regions surrounding them.

Figure 4.6: Exceedences of the AAQ NEPM standard for particles (PM10), 2002–08, NSW rural cities

Figure 4.6

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Source: DECCW data 2009

While dust storms are uncommon events, they can result in widespread exposure to extreme levels of particles (DECC 2007a). For example, on 23 September 2009, the largest dust storm to hit NSW since air quality monitoring commenced resulted in extreme levels of particles over most of the state. The lower Hunter recorded the highest PM10 averages over 24 hours of 2425 µg/m3, nearly 50 times the standard of 50 µg/m3. Sydney, the Illawarra, Bathurst and Tamworth recorded PM10 concentrations ranging from 27 to 42 times the standard. The previous highest PM10 concentration recorded in NSW was at Wagga Wagga during a dust storm on 19–20 March 2003, when the PM10 24 hour-average registered 970 µg/m3, almost 20 times the standard (Figure 4.7).

The incidence of dust storms is a function of soil dryness, ground-cover density and wind speed (Lu & Shao 2001). The frequency of dust storms increases with the frequency of droughts. The extreme 2003 dust storm was associated with drought conditions. The incidence of drought is projected to increase under climate change (CSIRO 2007) and so dust impacts on air quality could be expected to increase as well.

Figure 4.7: Annual maximum 24-hour-average concentrations for particles (PM10), 1994–2008, GMR2 and NSW rural cities

Figure 4.7

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Source: DECCW data 2009

Notes: Particles data prior to 2008, as presented in past NSW SoE reports, were calculated for the 24-hour period from 11 pm to 11 pm. For this report and in line with NEPM reporting standards, 24-hour-average PM10 concentrations have been recalculated to true calendar average (midnight to midnight).

The seasonality of exceedences is different in Wagga Wagga from the other regional centres (Figure 4.8). In Wagga Wagga most exceedence days are recorded during autumn whereas in Albury, Bathurst and Tamworth the majority occur in summer. The high number of exceedences during autumn in Wagga Wagga is likely to be a result of widespread stubble burning in the region, woodheating, agricultural emissions and natural events, such as dust storms and bushfires, particularly associated with the drought.

Figure 4.8: Seasonal distribution of PM10 exceedence days, 2002–08, NSW rural cities

Figure 4.8

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Source: DECCW data 2009

Notes: Percentage is calculated for each city based on total exceedences of the AAQ NEPM standard for PM10 for the period 2002–08.

Health research identifies fine particles with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) as a particular concern. This is because their smaller size means they can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs. There is currently insufficient information available to set a health-based standard. As a result, the AAQ NEPM was amended in 2003 to include two advisory reporting standards for PM2.5: a 24-hour-average of 25 µg/m3 and an annual average of 8 µg/m3. In NSW measured PM2.5 levels have generally been at or below the 24-hour-average advisory reporting standard but above the annual average advisory reporting standard.

Figure 4.9 shows the highest daily average concentration of PM2.5 recorded each year in the GMR2 subregions. After four years of elevated maximums from 2000 to 2003, the past five years have seen the highest measured 24-hour-average PM2.5 concentrations return to levels closer to the advisory reporting standard for the daily average.

Figure 4.9: Annual maximum 24-hour-average concentrations for particles (PM2.5), 1996–2008, GMR2

Figure 4.9

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Source: DECCW data 2009

Notes: ARS = advisory reporting standard

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Other AAQ NEPM pollutants

For the other four criteria air pollutants under the AAQ NEPM – carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead – NSW consistently complies with the national air quality standards. For details of the standards and past NSW performance against them, see 'Atmosphere 3.4: Metropolitan Air Quality' in NSW State of the Environment 2000 (EPA 2000).

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels, with industrial premises and motor vehicles the main sources. In NSW, elevated levels of carbon monoxide are generally only encountered in areas with high traffic density and poor dispersion. Concentrations of carbon monoxide have fallen over the past 20 years as a result of changes to motor vehicle technology.

Nitrogen dioxide is predominantly produced by motor vehicles. The AAQ NEPM standard was regularly exceeded in the winter months of the early 1980s. Measured concentrations have not exceeded the 1-hour-average standard since 1998; from 2002–07 the highest 1-hour value recorded in Sydney was only 75% of the standard. Over this period, maximum concentrations were even lower in the Illawarra and Lower Hunter regions.

Sulfur dioxide in GMR2 originates mainly from industries such as metal processing, oil refining and coal-fired power generation. As a result of regulatory efforts, from 1994 to 2008 concentrations of sulfur dioxide have been low, with no exceedences recorded in GMR2. Maximum hourly ambient concentrations in Sydney were less than 25% of the AAQ NEPM standard. Higher concentrations are observed in the Illawarra and Lower Hunter regions as a result of industrial emissions, although these are also below the NEPM standard.

Lead concentrations, which were predominantly produced by motor vehicles, have fallen greatly due to changes in fuel formulation. Annual averages in Sydney were consistently less than 20% of the AAQ NEPM standard for some time. With a complete ban on lead in petrol now in force, the primary source of lead in air at the regional scale has been eliminated. Consequently, routine monitoring of lead no longer became necessary and ceased in December 2004.

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Air Toxics NEPM pollutants

The Air Toxics NEPM applies to five air toxics: benzene, toluene, xylenes, formaldehyde and benzo(α)pyrene (as a marker for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). The NEPM is primarily concerned with the measurement of ambient levels of these five pollutants. The significance of monitored levels of the air toxics is assessed by comparing results against monitoring investigation levels (MILs). MIL values are the levels of an air pollutant below which lifetime exposure, or exposure for a given averaging time, does not constitute a significant health risk.

Between 1996 and 2001, the Ambient Air Quality Research Project investigated concentrations of 81 air toxics in four distinct groups: 17 dioxins (including furans); 41 volatile organic compounds (VOCs); 11 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; and 12 heavy metals (EPA 2002). More than 1400 samples were collected at 25 sites. Three air toxics – benzene, 1,3-butadiene and benzo(α)pyrene – were identified as requiring ongoing assessment to ensure they remain at acceptable levels in the future.

Since October 2008, in accordance with the Air Toxics NEPM, the five NEPM air toxics along with 1,3-butadiene have been monitored at two sites in Sydney: Turella and Rozelle. Data is expected to be available for full reporting in 2010.

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In 2007, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) prepared an air emissions inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR3) of NSW which indicates a wide range of sources for the state's harder-to-control air pollutants, ground-level ozone (major precursors NOx and VOCs) and particles (DECC 2007b). The inventory is a detailed listing of the estimated quantities of pollutants discharged into the atmosphere by source over a given time at specific locations. The study area covered 57,330 km2 where approximately 76% of the NSW population are based. The following discussion of pollutant sources to the airsheds in GMR3 is based on the emissions inventory.

Motor vehicles ('on-road mobile sources' – cars, trucks, buses, etc.) are the largest or second-largest contributor to NOx and VOC emissions across GMR3 (Figure 4.10). Emissions from motor vehicles decreased from 2003 to 2008 as a result of improving vehicle emission standards, a stabilisation in vehicle kilometres travelled over that period (see Human Settlement 3.3), and a lower fleet age (older vehicles generally have less advanced emission control technology and the effectiveness of emission control systems usually deteriorates with years of use).

Industry is the most significant contributor to NOx and PM10 emissions in Wollongong and the non-urban region of GMR3 (Figure 4.10). In Sydney, industry is the highest emitter of PM10 and second-highest emitter of NOx, while in Newcastle industry is the highest emitter of PM10 and PM2.5 (Figure 4.10). A rise in economic activity from 2003 to 2008 has seen a growth in industry (see Human Settlement 3.2) which has increased its emissions.

The domestic-commercial sector is the largest contributor to VOC emissions in all areas of GMR3. Population growth (see People and the Environment 1.2) has led to an increase in emissions from this sector.

In summary, between 2003 and 2008, emissions from most sectors have varied by no more than ±8% (Figure 4.10). Exceptions include:

  • NOx emissions from industry in Sydney, which increased 49% (6876 tonnes)
  • NOx emissions from off-road mobile sources (mining and construction machinery, trains, etc.) in Sydney, which increased 11% (1085 tonnes)
  • PM10 emissions from industry in the non-urban areas of GMR3, which increased 19% (6774 tonnes)
  • PM2.5 emissions from industry in the non-urban areas of GMR3, which increased 16% (1190 tonnes).

Figure 4.10: Sources of NOx, VOC, PM10 and PM2.5 emissions by sector, 2003 and 2008, GMR3

Figure 4.10

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Source: DECC 2007b

Notes: The 2008 emissions are estimates based on the 2003 data using surrogates such as estimated energy consumption, estimated population and forecast transport growth.
'Off-road mobile' includes aircraft, trains, boats, heavy mining machinery, etc.
'Non-Urban' is the area of GMR3 not covered by the Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong regions. It includes areas such as Muswellbrook, Singleton, Cessnock, Lithgow, Kiama and the Central Coast.

Figure 4.11 presents a more detailed breakdown of air pollutant sources in Sydney. Petrol passenger motor vehicles are the largest source of NOx emissions, contributing 38% of the total, while heavy duty diesel vehicles are the second largest single source at 15%. The largest single source of VOC emissions in Sydney (over 17%) is solvents and propellants used in aerosol products by the domestic and commercial sector. Petrol passenger motor vehicles are almost as significant, contributing 14% of total VOC emissions. Other significant sources of VOCs are surface coatings and evaporative emissions from petrol. Domestic solid-fuel burning is the largest single source of PM10 and PM2.5 emissions.

Figure 4.11: Detailed sources of NOx, VOCs, PM10 and PM2.5, 2008, Sydney

Figure 4.11

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Source: DECC 2007b

Notes: The 2008 emissions are estimates based on the 2003 data using surrogates such as estimated energy consumption, estimated population and forecast transport growth.

Global emissions of greenhouse gases will affect our climate and, in turn, this is likely to increase key air pollutants, such as ozone and particles. Climate change may influence the formation of ozone and secondary particles (PM2.5) through elevated ambient temperatures and chemical changes in the atmosphere. There is ongoing investigation into the relationship between climate change and air quality (Cope et al. 2008; Jacob & Winner 2008; Walsh 2008).

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Air pollution has many sources and knowing the contribution of each is necessary in developing the best approaches for improving air quality. The Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region in New South Wales prepared by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) in 2007 is the most comprehensive and up-to-date of its kind in Australia (DECC 2007b). Considerably more detailed than the 1992 inventory, it identifies over 90 different pollutants and covers emissions from all sources, including vehicles, industrial, commercial and domestic sectors, and natural sources across the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR3).

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Action for Air

Action for Air: The NSW Government's 25-Year Air Quality Management Plan (NSW Government 1998) is the key strategic plan for air quality in GMR2. It is a whole-of-government strategy that covers the full array of sources contributing to air pollution, from how we plan our cities, roads and public transport, to encouraging cleaner vehicles and fuel, and lowering industrial and household emissions. Action for Air is reviewed publicly every three years at the Clean Air Forum and updated to take into account changing circumstances and information. Clean Air Forums were held in 2001, 2004 and 2007, with updates issued in 2002 and 2006 (DEC 2006) and another expected in 2009 following Clean Air Forum 2007.

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Motor vehicle emissions

As motor vehicles are the main source of air pollution in Sydney, the NSW Government has implemented a range of policies to address vehicle emissions.

NSW Cleaner Vehicles and Fuels Strategy

Released in August 2008, the NSW Cleaner Vehicles and Fuels Strategy sets out key initiatives to further reduce emissions from motor vehicles by making fuels and vehicles cleaner, and encouraging people to use their cars less in favour of other transport options. As well as reducing emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, the initiatives will also deliver significant health and liveability benefits. Two of the strategy's initiatives are vapour recovery and a diesel retrofit program.

Stage 1 vapour recovery (VR1), which captures VOC emissions from underground storage tanks as they are filled by road tankers, has been in place in most parts of Sydney for some time, but will be extended to all parts of Sydney, and the Wollongong, Newcastle and Central Coast metropolitan areas.

Stage 2 vapour recovery (VR2) will capture VOC emissions from vehicle petrol tanks during refuelling at petrol bowsers. VR2 is being introduced in stages with vapour recovery equipment to be installed at the largest service stations in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and the Central Coast by 2014, and at all but the smallest service stations in Sydney by 2017. VR2 technology can reduce refuelling emissions by over 85% and its implementation will reduce VOC emissions in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GMA) by 5000 tonnes per year by 2020.

Diesel Retrofit Program: Retrofitting existing diesel vehicles with exhaust treatment devices is a cost-effective strategy to reduce air pollutant emissions. NSW established the program in 2005 after a pilot showed that particle emissions per vehicle could be reduced an average of 46% at a retrofit cost of $7600. This also avoided $17,000 in health costs per vehicle. The $6.1-million program involves the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW), the State Transit Authority (STA) and the Roads and Traffic Authority. Councils are also being invited to participate in the program. A particular focus will be retrofitting older Sydney buses operated by the STA at a cost of $4 million. Around 850 vehicles will be retrofitted to reduce particle emissions.

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Commercial and domestic emissions

The NSW Government has implemented a number of policies focused on the domestic-commercial sector as it is a significant contributor to air pollution in the state.

Woodsmoke Reduction Program

Woodsmoke reduction workshops were run for councils in Sydney and regional NSW during the 2007, 2008 and 2009 winters as part of the Government's Woodsmoke Reduction Program. The workshops help council officers manage local woodsmoke issues, such as the installation of woodheaters, enforcement action for excessive woodsmoke, the use of planning instruments to manage the number of woodheaters in a local government area, and community education programs to foster their better operation. Working with the former Growth Centres Commission, DECC investigated measures to manage installation of woodheaters in new land release areas to prevent further air pollution or disturbance to the amenity of nearby residents. As a result, development control plans for the first three rezoned precincts in the Growth Centres – Oran Park and Turner Road in the South-West Growth Centre, and North Kellyville in the North-West Growth Centre – prohibit open fireplaces and slow combustion stoves.

Woodheater compliance audits

In June 2007, DECC conducted woodheater compliance audits across 18 woodheater sales outlets, factories and warehouses in NSW. The checks involved DECC inspecting a random selection of woodheaters to see if they had valid compliance plates attached. The Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2002 requires all new woodheaters sold in NSW to have a compliance plate which specifies that the particular model has been tested in accordance with the relevant standard and complies with the emission limit.

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Industry emissions

The Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2002 provides the framework for managing air pollution from major industry.

Strengthening industrial emission standards

Tighter industrial emission standards for NOx, VOCs and particles were introduced when the Regulation was reviewed in 2005 along with a framework for the upgrade of old plant and equipment (see Parts 4 and 5 of the Regulation). The framework requires a review of the suitability of the emission standards for plant and equipment installed before 1 July 1979 and, where necessary, their upgrade to meet contemporary (post-1997) emission standards. DECCW has an implementation program under way to introduce more stringent particle emission limits at 130 industrial premises, including some of the oldest and largest industrial facilities, such as refineries and steel mills.

Pilot VOC emission reduction program

A pilot program targeting existing industrial sources of VOC emissions commenced in 2008. The program focuses on premises whose VOC emissions have the greatest potential to contribute to ozone formation in the Sydney and Illawarra Regions. Regulatory and non-regulatory tools in the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 are being implemented to reduce VOC emissions. The pilot is expected to be competed by the end of 2009.

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Improved presentation and communication of air quality data

DECCW's air quality information system was upgraded in 2008 to make it more flexible and accessible. This upgrade, in conjunction with an improved data acquisition and telemetry system allowing monitoring stations to be on-line continuously, has resulted in a number of significant changes in how air quality data is reported and presented. These changes include:

  • a revised Air Quality Index calculation, increasing from three to six the number of pollutants used and bringing it into line with calculations in other jurisdictions
  • hourly updates of the Air Quality Index for each monitoring station and region instead of twice daily
  • improved accessibility and functionality for air quality pages on-line, including greater use of maps and increased access to data through dynamic queries of historical summary data
  • six air pollution categories instead of three – very good, good, fair, poor, very poor and hazardous
  • a new subscription service (via SMS and email) to allow the community to subscribe to various alerts, including health alerts due to high pollution and regular pollution forecasts.

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Supporting climate change strategies

There are important links between activities that emit air pollutants and those that create greenhouse gas emissions:

  • air pollutants and greenhouse gases are often emitted by the same sources, such as fuel combustion
  • technical measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may have a similar impact on emissions of air pollutants and vice versa
  • some pollutants, such as NOx in the formation of ozone, contribute to both regional air pollution and climate change
  • air pollution and climate change may have an effect on each other – for example, climate change influences the formation of ozone and secondary particles (PM2.5) through chemical changes in the atmosphere, while an increase in background ozone and particle concentrations contributes to climate change.

Links can be made between policy responses to both issues. An example is the transport and energy sectors. Both sectors are key sources of greenhouse gases, NOx and VOCs, and policies to reduce the impacts of one problem can also have significant benefits for the other (see also responses in Climate Change 2.2, Human Settlement 3.2 and Human Settlement 3.3).

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Other supporting strategies

Various other strategies and statements covering urban planning and development, transport planning, traffic management and public transport network management will continue to contribute towards air quality improvements across NSW: see the responses in Climate Change 2.2, Human Settlement 3.2 and Human Settlement 3.3.

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Air toxics strategies

Many of the policy and regulatory actions (discussed earlier) for addressing the six AAQ NEPM criteria air pollutants are also suitable management tools for air toxics.

VR1 and VR2: As petrol vapour contains benzene, the extension of Stage 1 vapour recovery to a wider coverage area and introduction of Stage 2 vapour recovery will significantly decrease emissions of this air toxic from service stations.

Woodsmoke Reduction Program: Woodheaters are a significant source of benzo(α)pyrene and other air toxics. This strategy aimed at educating local government, and hence the community, about better management of woodsmoke will therefore address particle and air toxic emissions simultaneously.

Pilot VOC emission reduction program: As many air toxics are VOCs, this program to reduce VOCs from targeted industries will also reduce air toxic concentrations from industrial premises.

The concentrations of air toxics are also managed by the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2002, which controls backyard burning and sets emission limits for air toxics from industrial facilities, and the Commonwealth Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 and the Fuel Quality Standards Regulations 2001, which manage air toxics emissions from motor vehicles.

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Future directions

Emissions from the commercial and domestic sectors are growing, increasing their relative contribution to overall emissions. NSW will continue to work with other governments to develop appropriate controls at a national level. For example, NSW is a member of a national working party which is considering management options to reduce emissions from small engines. This project was initiated by NSW and has been taken up at a national level. NSW is also leading an Environment Protection and Heritage Council working group with other states and the Australian Government to develop strategies that reduce VOC emissions from paints and solvents. On another front, NSW is working with the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions to promote and develop a national approach for managing woodsmoke emissions.

The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) will continue to work with industry to ensure continuous improvement in emission performance. The second stage of the program to upgrade old industrial plant and equipment as required by regulation will be fully implemented by 2012. It is expected to cover more than 300 industrial premises and will require improvements to old equipment that further reduce emissions of particles and additional pollutants, including NOx and air toxics.

The forecast growth in the state's population and in private and commercial vehicle travel will require an ongoing focus on motor vehicles from the perspectives of both ambient air pollution and greenhouse gas reduction. New and emerging motor vehicle technologies are likely to help achieve emission reductions.

There are a number of potential contributors to the exceedences of the AAQ NEPM standard for PM10 in some regional centres, including dust storms, agricultural burning, woodsmoke and bushfires. DECCW is working with other government agencies, local government and local communities to develop a rural particles strategy. The strategy will focus on increasing our knowledge about the relative contribution of different sources to the exceedences of the AAQ NEPM standard for PM10 through a pilot project in Wagga Wagga. This centre was chosen because it has the highest number of exceedences of the standard.

The primary objectives of the strategy will be to:

  • collate and analyse existing information about particle emissions from rural activities
  • identify opportunities for cost-effective rural particle emissions reduction through conservation farming and new technology, bushfire and hazard reduction burning controls, and general dust control
  • develop priority management actions in collaboration with other government agencies, local communities and key agricultural stakeholders.

This new approach will complement the current initiatives, such as bushfire and hazard reduction burning management strategies, stubble management and conservation farming initiatives, and woodsmoke reduction programs.

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Contents SoE 2009 View printable page Last modified: 24 November 2009