Atmosphere Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Dr Peter Manins, Environmental Consulting and Research Unit, CSIRO Atmospheric Research, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06746 9

Urban Air Quality (continued)

Indicators of the condition of air quality (continued)

Sulfur dioxide in urban areas [A Indicator 3.5]

  • Implications
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    Sulfur dioxide occurs in the Australian urban atmosphere only when a fuel that contains sulfur is burnt, or on the rare occasions when the emissions from a large source drift into the urban area (Malfroy et al. 2000). The sulfur combines with oxygen to produce the gas sulfur dioxide. Fortunately, most of the fossil fuels that occur naturally in Australia (coal, petroleum and natural gas) are low in sulfur. This is not the case with imported fossil fuels. Two Australian refineries have already installed the necessary equipment to remove the sulfur from imported fuels to produce low sulfur fuel. Under the National Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, diesel fuel, which had an average sulfur level of 1500 ppm at the time of passage of the Act, will be reduced to 500 ppm in 2002 and further reduced to 50 ppm in 2006. The sulfur content of petrol will be reduced to 150 ppm in 2005 and 50 ppm in 2007. Table 19 presents the sulfur content of petrol and diesel fuel produced in Australia during 1997 and 1998.

    Table 19: Sulfur content (ppm by weight) of leaded petrol, unleaded petrol (ULP), premium unleaded petrol (PULP) and diesel fuel
    Refinery and State leaded 1998 ULP 1998 PULP 1998 diesel 1998
    Lytton (Qld) 20 100 100 380
    Bulwer Is. (Qld) 210 230 190 2 100
    Kurnell (NSW) 100 100 100 1 400
    Clyde (NSW) 500 220 100 2 200
    Kwinana (WA) 190 280 190 2 100
    Altona (Vic.) 500 200 200 1 000
    Geelong (Vic.) 60 60 30 1 600
    Point Stanvac (SA) 6 1 100 900
    Australian average 210 150 120 1 500

    Source: Environment Australia (2000a).

    The Air NEPM ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide are 0.20 ppm averaged over one hour, 0.08 ppm averaged over 24 hours and 0.02 ppm averaged over one year. In urban Australia, ambient sulfur dioxide concentrations are low except near petroleum refineries, petrochemical industries or other chemical manufacturing industries.

    The only population centres to exceed the one hour standard are Mount Isa and Kalgoorlie (see Regional air quality). The other sulfur dioxide standards are not exceeded anywhere in Australia.


    Elevated concentrations of sulfur dioxide are not an issue in metropolitan Australia.