Air toxics and indoor air quality in Australia

State of knowledge report
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4739 4


Living Cities – Air Toxics Program

The community has legitimate concerns regarding the release of toxic substances into the atmosphere (where they may be directly inhaled) and the potential for transport to other media and subsequent uptake into the food chain. Recognising this, the Commonwealth Government is committed to working with State and Territory governments, community and industry groups to develop a national approach to the management of priority air pollutants in both the ambient and indoor environments. This work is being progressed under the Commonwealth Government's Living Cities program.

Announced in the 1999–2000 budget (Hill 1999), Living Cities was allocated $50 million in funding over three years to address priority urban pollution issues. Elements to be addressed by Living Cities include air quality, urban waterways, waste management, chemical collection, urban vegetation and coastal water quality.

The Living Cities – Air Toxics Program (ATP) is a core element of this initiative. The ATP will address urban air quality issues by supporting the development of national strategies for the management of air toxics and indoor air quality.

For the purpose of the ATP, air toxics are defined as:

…gaseous, aerosol or particulate pollutants (other than the six criteria pollutants) which are present in the air in low concentrations with characteristics such as toxicity or persistence so as to be a hazard to human, plant or animal life. The terms 'air toxics' and 'hazardous air pollutants' (HAPS) are used interchangeably.

This definition is based on a definition developed by the Air Toxics Forum 1.

In developing national approaches, the ATP is working with all government jurisdictions, industry, community interest groups and other interested parties to establish appropriate measures to address selected priority air toxics. To this end, a major focus for the Commonwealth has been to support the development of a national environment protection measure (NEPM)2 for ambient air toxics (see Section 3.4 and Chapter 5). Management strategies for addressing indoor air quality will require further detailed consideration as the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) Act 1994 excludes the use of NEPMs to address indoor air quality issues. If the Ambient Air Toxics NEPM is agreed, additional jurisdictional measures would be required to achieve its national objectives (goals/guidelines/standards). The implementation of any management strategies will be a shared responsibility of all government jurisdictions.

The ATP is intended to build upon existing commitments in the Ambient Air Quality NEPM and the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI), to deliver long-term gains to the environment and human health. As a starting point for addressing indoor air quality issues special consideration will be given to four of the six criteria pollutants covered by the Ambient Air Quality NEPM, which have been identified as being of particular significance indoors (ie carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and particles). More information on the criteria pollutants is given in Section 1.2.4.

State of Knowledge Report

The State of Knowledge Report: Air Toxics and Indoor Air Quality in Australia has relied heavily on information provided from existing publications, notably the report prepared by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Victoria, Hazardous Air Pollutants – A Review of Studies Performed in Australia and New Zealand (June 1999)3. The State of Knowledge Report has made extensive use of material produced for the NPI and other reviews/studies prepared by Commonwealth agencies and State and Territory governments, in particular, EPA Victoria, which provided previously unpublished data, and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC). The Department of Environmental Protection, Western Australia (WA DEP) and the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA) also provided information. The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) provided significant technical input on the revision of the factsheets in Part C.

The purpose of this report is to increase access to information and provide a common baseline of knowledge on air toxics and indoor air quality for the whole community. It gives the public the opportunity to better understand issues relating to air toxics and indoor air quality, and so influence governments as they develop appropriate response strategies.

Development of the report has involved an extensive, multistage public consultation process that commenced in December 1999. During the ensuing six months three draft versions were released for open public consultation, each time allowing a minimum of four weeks for public comment. Subsequent to this a further two drafts were circulated for consideration by key stakeholders from government, industry and community sectors. Before the release of the first draft, a call for public submissions was advertised in the national press. In addition to the formal consultation periods, submissions were welcomed and considered during the whole development process.

The two consultative groups established for the ATP, the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and the Steering Group (SG), also served as important conduits for distribution of information regarding the report (see Appendix C). An electronic draft version was made available at the Air Toxics website4. Hard copies were distributed to members of the Air Managers Forum of Commonwealth, State and Territory environmental agencies and to representatives of the TAG and SG. Additional hard copies were given to interested individuals and groups on request. Individuals and organisations could lodge submissions on the State of Knowledge Report by electronic mail (; submissions could also be mailed.

The final text of the report is available on the publications page of the ATP web site, on CD-ROMs and in print. The printed and CD-ROM versions will be distributed to individuals and organisations that have registered an interest in air toxics and indoor air quality issues.

A 'community summary' – 'A Status Report to the Community: Living Cities – Air Toxics Program Report' (ISBN 0 642 54738 6) has also been produced. This document summarises key issues discussed in the State of Knowledge Report and presents them in a readily accessible style.


1 The Air Toxics Forum (26 May 1999, Canberra) was sponsored by Environment Australia to discuss issues relevant to the development of the air toxics strategy. The forum engaged Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments in dialogue with key stakeholders from industry, community and conservation non-government organisations (NGOs).

2 NEPMs are framework-setting statutory instruments that outline agreed national objectives for protecting particular aspects of the environment. They may consist of any combination of standards, goals or guidelines. Implementation of NEPMs is the responsibility of each participating jurisdiction (ie the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments). See also NEPC website ( ).

Partially funded by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC).



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