Managing particle pollution

Particle pollution is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets suspended in air.  It is made up of a complex range of components including nitrates, sulphates, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust.

Reducing particle pollution is a priority for the EPA, based on evidence that

  • communities in urban and regional NSW are exposed to particle pollution which is harmful to health
  • there are feasible, cost effective actions available to governments, industry and the community to reduce particle emissions
  • reducing particle pollution will deliver substantial health and economic gains

Main sources of PM2.5 emissions in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Region (includes Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong) 

Pie chart showing the top 10 sources of PM2.5 particles in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Area

Source: Managing Particles and Improving Air Quality in NSW (EPA, 2013)


In 2015, the EPA and NSW Health funded The Centre for Air Quality and Health Research and Evaluation to complete a Review of the health impacts of emission sources, types and levels of particulate matter air pollution in ambient air in NSW (PDF 3MB). This report presents information from international and Australian scientific literature on the characteristics of various particles and their health effects. Particle emission sources considered in the report include coal dust, coal-fired power stations, on-road vehicles, non-road diesel equipment, wood heaters, bushfires and hazard reduction burns, crustal dust, sea salt and biogenic sources.

The review found evidence that fine particles (PM2.5) are more detrimental to health and have a wider range of health effects than larger particles. However, larger particles also have health impacts which can differ from those associated with smaller particles. There is more evidence of health impacts linked to combustion emissions, for example, traffic, diesel exhaust and coal fired power stations, than other sources and exposure to these sources is associated with impacts on cardiovascular and respiratory health.  People most sensitive to particle pollution include children, older adults and those with asthma, heart or lung disease.


The EPA implements various actions to target particle pollution depending on the source, concentration, local and regional meteorology, land uses, nearby receptors and other factors.

The EPA is responsible for managing the impacts of smoke from wood heaters under Part 5.4, Division 3 of the POEO Act.  Excessive smoke from incorrectly installed or operated wood heaters is a major contributor to particle pollution in some areas of NSW during cooler months when unburnt gases cool as they travel up the chimney.

EPA works with local councils to reduce pollution from wood heaters, including training council officers in

  • enforcing legislation regarding excessively smoky chimneys
  • improving wood heater installation practices
  • undertaking community education campaigns – the EPA has also produced a wood smoke pollution resource kit containing resources such as sample media releases and advertisements

Image - bushfire from car

The EPA works with the NSW Rural Fire Service to reduce air pollution during planned burns and bushfires. The NSW Rural Fire Service has produced a bushfire environmental assessment code, which contains strategies to reduce smoke during hazard reduction burns.

The Bushfire Coordinating Committee has developed a Bushfire Smoke Management policy to guide NSW fire and land managers, both public and private, in balancing their fire management and air quality management obligations.

The impacts of climate change could mean some areas of NSW experience warmer temperatures and lower rainfall, leading to more bushfires and dust storms which are both key sources of particle pollution.

After harvesting crops such as cotton, wheat and rice, some farmers burn the remnants or stubble to reduce the risk of passing on diseases or pests to the next crop, and reduce weed seed banks. However, this practice can cause significant local particle pollution.

The EPA’s guidance note advises councils of the regulations regarding agricultural stubble burning and alternatives which are better for the environment and human health.

The EPA’s smoky vehicle enforcement program aims to reduce air emissions by ensuring that owners properly maintain their vehicles. A smoky vehicle is any motor vehicle that emits visible smoke continuously for more than ten seconds. Read more about smoky vehicles.

The Diesel and Marine Emissions Management Strategy addresses emissions from non-road diesel equipment used at EPA-licensed activities such as coal mining, equipment used by Government agencies or their contractors, diesel locomotives operating in NSW, and containerised and bulk cargo and cruise shipping at NSW ports. It sets out actions that the EPA has implemented and further steps it is taking to ensure that NSW benefits from the availability of feasible and cost-effective approaches and technologies to reduce non-road diesel and marine emissions.

From 2011 to December 2014, the EPA ran the Clean Machine Program, which supported diesel emissions reductions from non-road diesel equipment by promoting procurement of lower emitting equipment, better worksite practices, and subsidising retrofitting of heavily polluting machines with exhaust emissions after-treatment devices (partial diesel particle filters). The program targeted diesel plant and equipment such as cranes, loaders, graders, dump trucks and tractors, used mainly in ports, quarries, waste facilities and construction.

More than 40 organisations throughout the greater metropolitan region, including private businesses and local councils, participated in the program and the NSW Government provided almost $806,000 in subsidies to retrofit 141 diesel machines. It is estimated that these retrofits will reduce diesel particle emissions by about 37 tonnes over 10 years, yielding substantial public health benefits. Read more about the Clean Machine Program.

The EPA has instigated several measures to reduce dust from coal mines including

  • commissioning a benchmarking study to identify the main sources of particle pollution and suggest international best practice measures to minimise emissions
  • implementing the Dust Stop program where each mine operator carries out a site-specific determination of best management practice to reduce emissions
  • imposing pollution reduction programs on coal mining licences.
Image of residential landscape and clouds

Following the severe dust storms throughout NSW in 2002 and 2009, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) launched DustWatch, a program that monitors and reports on the extent and severity of wind erosion across Australia. NSW Local Land Services and the EPA work in partnership with OEH to maintain the network of DustWatch stations and volunteers.

With the help of community volunteers, DustWatch advises scientists, farmers, land managers and the community about dust conditions and wind erosion through

OEH has recently started to install low cost air quality monitoring instruments at selected DustWatch sites, such as Wagga Wagga, to help determine the sources and type of particle pollution in the area.


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