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
Regional Air Quality (continued)
Air quality in rural and regional Australia is generally excellent, certainly compared with air quality in our major cities or cities in other countries. To maintain the high quality, and to improve conditions in those few places and occasions when air quality is not so good, requires continuous improvement.
For both urban and regional air quality management in Australia, the single most important recent event has been the 1998 agreement to the NEPM for ambient air quality. It will take several years to fully implement the Measure but consequences will include a reporting framework that will allow easy comparison of air quality across Australia. Along with the National Pollutant Inventory, the Air NEPM is providing the necessary reference information and standards to allow Australians to enjoy the benefit of equivalent protection from air pollution wherever they live.
Additionally, the National Pollutant Inventory is starting to allow an identification of areas of possible concern for regional air quality. (A significant emission does not necessarily mean a significant air pollution problem, so care in drawing conclusions will be required.) The Inventory has proved to be very valuable in preparing this Report. It will be much more valuable when data from all the major emitters are supplied. There are significant gaps preventing full assessment of emissions. Continuing support of the Inventory by the Commonwealth and States should be a priority.
Adoption of the impressive Australian Mineral Industry Code for Environmental Management by members of the mineral industry is a major initiative and a model that could well be followed by other groups. Self regulation is not always possible, and so there is a role for policy development in areas including fuel reduction burning, use of wood heaters and agricultural practices.
Improvements in vehicle emission standards, crucial in urban Australia, also improve the conditions in larger regional centres.
Sulfur dioxide concentrations decreased substantially between 1995 and 2000. Concentrations continue to be of concern in highly concentrated mineral processing communities such as Port Pirie and Mount Isa.
Lead concentrations are unacceptable in Port Pirie and Cockle Creek by comparison with the Air NEPM.
The most important air quality issue in rural and regional Australia is management of airborne particles, including haze, smoke, PM10 and dust. Pesticide spray drift is a related but much more local issue; however, presently there are only anecdotal data from which to judge its importance.
Although aluminium smelters show low concentrations of fluoride beyond their boundaries, data from the National Pollutant Inventory are making evident the large emissions from coal-fired electricity production. Exploratory ambient monitoring of the gaseous fluorides that cause vegetation damage may be warranted. (The Inventory reports only total fluoride emissions, not their gaseous and particulate fractions).
The effect of transport of smog and smog-precursors from urban to regional areas is difficult to judge because now there is only growing indirect evidence. Very limited past monitoring and new air pollution modelling are showing the prevalence of such events in Victoria and eastern New South Wales.
There is much more evidence for the converse issue: transport of rural emissions to major urban centres, particularly bushfire smoke and smog precursors.
Assessment for this Report would be far better based if State regulators and licensing agencies made available in a useful form just some of the data from the routine monitoring undertaken by industry in part-fulfilment of licence conditions.