National standards for criteria air pollutants 1 in Australia


Air quality fact sheet
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005

Protecting Australia's air quality

The quality of the air we breathe affects our health. Although Australia's air quality is better than in many other comparable countries, it is important to take steps now to ensure that air quality is protected into the future. Even small improvements in air quality can achieve benefits for human health and wellbeing.

High concentrations of the major air pollutants are associated with respiratory problems such as coughs, bronchitis, asthma and, in severe cases, developmental problems in children, and even death. The economic benefits from reducing air pollution include savings in health expenditure and fewer sick days by employees.

Through the National Environment Protection Council, the Australian, State and Territory Governments agreed to the National Environment and Protection Measure for Ambient2 Air Quality on 26 June 1998. The Measure was developed by governments in consultation with health professionals, environmental groups and the community. It aims to improve the health of Australians through improved air quality.

The Measure sets air quality standards that are legally binding on each level of government. Jurisdictions put strategies in place to reduce emissions and to achieve the standards set out below. The standards relate to six criteria air pollutants: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, photochemical oxidants, sulfur dioxide, lead and particles. Significant achievements have been made in improving Australia's air quality over recent years. (See the State of the Air Report: Community Summary 1991–2001.)

National Air Quality Standards

Pollutant Concentration and averaging period
Carbon monoxide 9.0 ppm (parts per million) measured over an eight hour period
Nitrogen dioxide 0.12 ppm averaged over a one hour period
0.03 ppm averaged over a one year period
Ozone 0.10 ppm of ozone measured over a one hour period
0.08 ppm of ozone measured over a four hour period
Sulfur dioxide 0.20 ppm averaged over a one hour period
0.08 ppm averaged over a 24 hour period
0.02 ppm averaged over a one year period
Lead 0.5 µg/m³ (micrograms per cubic metre) averaged over a one year period
Particles as PM 10 50 µg/m³ averaged over a 24-hour period
Particles as PM 2.5 Advisory reporting standard: 25 µg/m³ over a one day period; 8 µg/m³ over a one year period

Developing the National Air Quality Standards

The standards were set on the basis of scientific studies of air quality and human health from all over the world, as well as the standards set by other organisations, such as the World Health Organization. Australian conditions, eg climate, geography and demographics, were taken into account in estimating the likely exposure of Australians to these major air pollutants. Each air quality standard has two elements: the maximum acceptable concentration and the period of time period over which the concentration is averaged.

Monitoring and reporting

The Measure includes requirements for monitoring and reporting on jurisdictions' performance in reducing the levels of the six specified air pollutants. The goal is for the standards to be met in all States and Territories by 2008, with few exceedences3. In the case of lead, no exceedences are allowed. A review of the Measure is currently underway.

The Measure also improves the consistency of reporting on levels of air pollution across Australia. Improved information about air quality helps governments to manage polluters and therefore helps to improve the protection of Australia's air quality.

Other steps

Other steps have been taken to protect Australia's air quality. These include pollution control measures, such as the phasing out of leaded petrol by 1 January 2002, the introduction of vehicle emission standards and the implementation of national fuel quality standards.

The National Environment Protection Measure for Air Toxics was made in 2004. (See fact sheet on air toxics.) The aim of this Measure is to gather data on a category of air pollutants called 'air toxics'. Air toxics are receiving increasing attention internationally and in Australia.

For more information

Related publications are available from the Community Information Unit of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, phone 1800 803 772. These include the State of the Air Report: Community Summary 1991–2001 and Air Quality fact sheets on: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particles, sulfur dioxide, air toxics, woodheaters and woodsmoke, and smoke from biomass burning.

See also our Air quality website. The complete National Environment Protection Measures for Ambient Air Quality and for Air Toxics are available at: .


1 'Criteria air pollutants' is a term used internationally to describe air pollutants that have been regulated and are used as indicators of air quality.

2 In this context, 'ambient' means 'outdoor'.

3 An exceedence occurs when the concentration of a pollutant is measured and found to be above the level specified in the air quality standard in the Measure.