Environment Australia, June 2002
ISBN 0 6425 4738 6
The way forward
There are no national standards in Australia for levels of air toxics in outdoor air. The States and Territories have regulations that cover emissions of some air toxics and effective measures have been put in place to implement those regulations. However, each State and Territory has developed its own approach to managing these pollutants and differences have resulted.
Limited studies of the levels of air toxics in outdoor air have been carried out around the country. These studies indicate that the levels of most of these substances are generally below international guidelines, although elevated levels have been observed from time to time in some Australian cities. Air pollution is a major environmental concern to most Australians who have high expectations for air quality management to maintain and improve Australia's existing air quality.
On 29 June 2001, the National Environment Protection Council agreed to develop a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) for five air toxics in ambient air: benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, toluene and xylenes. These substances are a sub-set of the 28 priority air toxics identified in the State of Knowledge Report.
Further information on the Air Toxics NEPM can be found by logging on to: www.nepc.gov.au .
Environment Australia has commissioned several studies to generate data about air toxics in the Australian context. These studies will provide valuable input to the work on the Air Toxics NEPM. Reports of completed studies are available and the remainder will be published when completed. Information on the individual studies can be found by logging on to: www.environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airtoxics.
Managing indoor air quality presents challenges not found with outdoor air.
As highlighted in this booklet, there are no national standards for indoor air quality, apart from those that apply to the workplace. Another challenge is that the responsibility for indoor air quality is not centralised in one authority in Australia. In the absence of nation-wide coordination, indoor air quality is being addressed through a range of diverse responses, including State and Territory government activities, interim guidelines, national ventilation codes, improved building design, and community education.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has recommended guideline levels for a number of common indoor air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, lead, ozone, radon, sulfates, sulfur dioxide, particulates and VOCs. These levels are comparable to recommended levels established overseas.
In Australia, indoor air quality has been the subject of a range of studies in a number of States and Territories. The most effective way to control and manage pollutants appears to be to control their release. Ventilation is also important in managing pollutant levels. In general, the studies found a complex mix of factors linking indoor air quality with human health effects.
Environment Australia will be developing strategies in consultation with the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing and with the States and Territories to improve indoor air quality. One avenue for achieving this improvement is through the reduction of emissions of indoor air pollutants – either by eliminating their sources or by minimising the emissions from those sources.