Managing air quality

The EPA aims to ensure NSW air quality meets or is better than national ambient air quality 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 can sometimes be above national standards.
  • Particles (PM10 and PM2.5) in both rural and urban areas can sometimes be above national standards. Exceedances of the standards can be caused by exceptional events such as dust storms, bushfires and hazard reduction burns.

Air quality is a key environmental issue for NSW residents, as shown in the State of the Environment Report 2021.

National Air Quality standards are periodically reviewed and updated based on the latest available health evidence. In 2015 Environment Ministers from the Commonwealth and all states and territories agreed to vary the Ambient Air Quality NEPM to tighten PM10 and PM2.5 standards.

In 2021 reporting standards for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3) were also amended and strengthened. 

A further review of the particles (PM10 and PM2.5), O3, NO2 and SO2 standards is scheduled to commence in 2025.

Find out more about 

  • EPA's NSW State of the Environment 2021: Air Quality provides a comprehensive report on ambient air quality and sources of air emissions.
  • The air emissions inventory provides a detailed account of the major natural and human-made sources of air pollution in the NSW greater metropolitan region (GMR). The GMR covers 57,330 km2 and includes the greater Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong regions where about 75% of the NSW population lives.
  • The NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) operates a comprehensive air quality monitoring network. Information is updated hourly online.

As part of its role, the EPA works to reduce air emissions from premises it licenses. The load-based licensing (LBL) scheme and pollution reduction programs support industries to reduce 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 completed or underway include

  • Update of the POEO Clean Air Regulation 2022 following a comprehensive review based on the latest environment and health research; current technologies, environmental practice and emission standards; and extensive stakeholder consultation.

  • The Vapour Recovery at Service Stations program reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds from petrol through vapour recovery controls.
    Stage 1 vapour recovery controls capture emissions during the refill of gasoline storage tanks. Stage 2 vapour recovery controls focus on capturing vapours at the bowser when vehicles refuel.
  • The Summer Low-volatility Petrol program helps manage ozone formation in the greater metropolitan area. Regulatory requirements limit petrol volatility to 62 kilopascals (a measure of vapour pressure) over the summer period from 1 November to 31 March each year.
  • The Smoky Vehicles enforcement program which aims to reduce vehicle emissions to air by ensuring owners properly maintain their vehicles. 
  • The Interim NOx Policy for Cogeneration in Sydney and the Illawarra (PDF 613KB ) that sets out a policy framework for managing emissions of ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide from gas-fired cogeneration and trigeneration facilities.
  • Dust reduction programs at open cut coal mines like Dust Stop, Dust Patrol and Bust the Dust ensure coal mines implement the most reasonable and feasible particulate control options.
  • Regulation of power stations and completion of statutory reviews of the environment protection licences of all operating NSW coal-fired power stations.
  • The Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR) in NSW 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.
  • The load-based licensing scheme and pollution reduction programs support industries to reduce emissions, including emissions to air.
  • The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) program implemented in NSW under EPA regulation, requires approximately 1,000 industry facilities in NSW that trigger reporting requirements, to publicly report their emissions for listed pollutants, including emissions to air. 
  • Periodically updating approved methods for air quality sampling and modelling documents. The Approved methods for the sampling and analysis of air pollutants in NSW lists the methods that NSW industries and commercial premises must use to ensure they comply with NSW air quality regulations by sampling and analysing their emissions of air pollutants. The Approved Methods for the Modelling and Assessment of Air Pollutants in NSW lists the statutory methods to be used for modelling and assessing emissions of air pollutants in NSW. 
  • 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). 
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

  • NSW Health on issues such as the health effects of fine particle pollution
  • community committees such as the Hunter Environment Advisory Group to allow community members to identify important air quality issues and allow local and regional industry to understand the community's concerns
  • local government to reduce air emissions from local domestic, commercial and industrial sources in their area

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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