3 Atmosphere | 3 Ambient air quality and other atmospheric issues | 3.3 Effectiveness of management

State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.

3 Atmosphere

3.3 Effectiveness of management

At a glance

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is one of the world’s most effective international environment protection agreements, orchestrating the phase-out of a broad range of ozone depleting substances (including some of the first generation of chlorofluorocarbon substitutes). Australia has ratified the protocol and, as a signatory, all subsequent amendments and has reduced its use of controlled substances well ahead of its international obligations.

For more than a decade, Australia has had national standards and goals for ambient air quality—the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM)—based on strong empirical evidence about the health impacts of major pollutants. The measure mandates a consistent approach to air quality monitoring, which has been applied by all states and territories, but—recognising the different legislative arrangements in each jurisdiction—does not dictate the means to be applied to achieve the goals. The AAQ NEPM is supported by national emission standards for new vehicles, set in the Australian Design Rules, and by fuel quality standards, both of which are established through Australian Government legislation (the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 and the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, respectively).

During the past 30–40 years, state and territory environment protection agencies have employed a variety of regulatory measures (including works approval, licensing and notices) to control and greatly restrict emissions of air pollutants from industrial and commercial sources. More recently, nonregulatory measures (such as codes of practice, market-based mechanisms and cleaner production incentive schemes) have been increasingly used to complement regulatory controls. In some jurisdictions, local government has a role in controlling emissions (mainly of particles and odour) from commercial sources. Local government tends to be the main tier of government responding to complaints at the neighbourhood level about smoke from domestic wood heaters.

Although the size of the Australian vehicle fleet is continuing to grow (as are the distances travelled), emissions are expected to continue to decline over the next decade as a result of tighter national fuel standards and the mandating of improved emission-control technologies under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. State and territory authorities are responsible for enforcing compliance with emission standards on in-service vehicles, and Australian Government officials monitor and enforce compliance with fuel standards.

Australian governments have actively sought to improve indoor air quality through a range of interventions (both regulatory and nonregulatory) targeting environmental tobacco smoke and unflued gas heaters. All states and territories prohibit smoking in cinemas and theatres (originally motivated by concern over risk of fire), in most types of public transport and in areas where food is prepared and consumed. Increasingly, similar bans are being applied to various outdoor public spaces. Unflued gas heaters are regulated in all states and territories; although the regulations vary between jurisdictions, they all require compliance with Australian standards. However, as various studies have shown, conformity with the Australian standards does not guarantee that emissions will not adversely affect health.

3.3.1 Stratospheric ozone

On the basis of the extent of international sign-on and results achieved, the Montreal Protocol is one of the world’s most effective international environment protection agreements. Various ‘world-avoided’ studies have demonstrated the importance of measures implemented under the protocol, not only in avoiding further damage to the ozone layer and allowing its gradual recovery, but also in significantly reducing the extent of climate change in coming decades. This is particularly important at high latitudes, where the avoided ozone depletion would have had a large effect on surface climate.104,169

Based on analysis of historical ODS emissions and potential emission scenarios, Velders et al.170 reach a similar conclusion, noting that ‘the climate protection already achieved by the Montreal Protocol alone is far larger than the reduction target of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol’. Additional climate change mitigation could be achieved under the Montreal Protocol through management of substitute fluorocarbon gas emissions and by mandating gases with low global warming potentials as alternatives.

Other world-avoided studies have modelled decreases in ozone levels and resulting increases in ground surface solar UV radiation levels. The excess radiation would have had major adverse effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and on human health. For example, mid-latitude ozone losses in the Northern Hemisphere would have reduced the time taken to sunburn (under a clear sky at noon) from 15 to 5 minutes. The amount of DNA-damaging UV reaching Earth would have increased between 1980 and 2065 by 550%.171

Since its establishment in 1987, controls under the protocol have been progressively expanded to cover a broad range of ODSs (including some of the first generation of CFC substitutes) and to accelerate initial phase-out timetables. Table 3.9 summarises the present control measures.

Table 3.9 Summary of Montreal Protocol measures
Ozone depleting substance Developed countries Developing countries
Chlorofluorocarbons Phased out end of 1995a Total phase-out by 2010
Halons Phased out end of 1993 Total phase-out by 2010
Carbon tetrachloride Phased out end of 1995a Total phase-out by 2010
Methyl chloroform Phased out end of 1995a Total phase-out by 2015
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons Freeze from beginning of 1996b
35% reduction by 2004
75% reduction by 2010
90% reduction by 2015
Total phase-out by 2020c
Freeze in 2013 at a base level calculated as the average of 2009 and 2010 consumption levels
10% reduction by 2015
35% reduction by 2020
67.5% reduction by 2025
Total phase-out by 2030d
Hydrobromofluorocarbons Phased out end of 1995 Phased out end of 1995
Methyl bromide
(horticultural uses)
Freeze in 1995 at 1991 base levele
25% reduction by 1999
50% reduction by 2001
70% reduction by 2003
Total phase-out by 2005
Freeze in 2002 at average 1995–98 base levele
20% reduction by 2005
Total phase-out by 2015
Bromochloromethane Phase-out by 2002 Phase-out by 2002

a With the exception of a very small number of internationally agreed essential uses that are considered critical to human health and/or laboratory and analytical procedures

b Based on 1989 hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) consumption with an extra allowance (ozone depletion potential weighted) equal to 2.8% of 1989 chlorofluorocarbon consumption

c Up to 0.5% of base-level consumption can be used until 2030 for servicing existing equipment, subject to review in 2015

d Up to 2.5% of base-level consumption can be used until 2040 for servicing existing equipment, subject to review in 2025

e All reductions include an exemption for preshipment and quarantine uses

Notes:
The timetable set by the Montreal Protocol applies to bulk consumption of ozone depleting substances (ODSs). Consumption is defined as the quantities manufactured plus imported, less those quantities exported in any given year. Percentage reductions relate to the designated ‘base year’ for the substance. The protocol does not forbid use of existing or recycled controlled substances beyond the phase-out dates.
Further information on these ODSs can be seen in the United Nations Environment Programme Ozone Secretariat’s Handbook for the international treaties for the protection of the ozone layer (see Section 1.2 of the handbook for links to graphs displaying ODS phase-out timetables).
For Australia’s accelerated HCFC phase-out timetable, see Part IV of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989.

Source: Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities172

Australia was an early supporter of international efforts to protect the ozone layer and has ratified the Montreal Protocol and all subsequent amendments. It moved quickly to give legislative effect to its obligations under the protocol, establishing the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989. Australia’s reduction in the use of substances controlled under the protocol (all of which are imported) has been well ahead of its international obligations (Figure 3.32). For example, Australia will essentially phase-out use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons four years ahead of 2020, the date scheduled under the protocol.107

Figure 3.32

Source: Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities172

Figure 3.32 Australia’s performance against Montreal Protocol obligations for controlled ozone depleting substance imports

3.3.2 Ambient air quality

National standards

At the national level, the Council of Australian Governments’ Standing Council on Environment and Water (previously the Environment Protection and Heritage Council) meets regularly to deal with issues of common concern, including ambient air quality. These ministerial meetings provide a forum for agreement on priorities and resourcing for the development of NEPM standards, policies and programs, and for related studies and other activities.

For more than a decade, Australia has had national standards and goals for ambient air quality (AAQ NEPM), which are based on strong empirical evidence about the health impacts of major pollutants. The standards are enshrined in law, and performance against them is regularly monitored in all our major cities and publicly reported. Achievement of the 10-year air quality goals established in the NEPM depends to a great extent on the effectiveness of actions (both regulatory and nonregulatory) taken by the states and territories to control point and nonpoint pollution sources. Although it is up to the individual state and territory governments how they go about achieving the NEPM goals, the system of public reporting allows interest groups and members of the public to pressure governments and regulators if progress to improve air quality is judged to be lacking or too slow.

The Australian Government also plays an important role in achieving air quality goals, chiefly through its powers to set emission standards for new vehicles (through the Australian Design Rules—ADRs) and fuel quality standards. ADRs are established under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, while vehicle fuel quality standards are set through the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000.

Responding to growing concern over particle and NOx pollution from diesel vehicles, the National Environment Protection (Diesel Vehicle Emissions) Measure was established in 2001. Unlike the ADRs that set standards for new petrol and diesel vehicles, the diesel emissions NEPM targets in-service vehicles (which are a state responsibility), establishing a range of strategies for governments to employ to reduce emissions.173-174

Although, in the past, Australian emission and fuel quality standards have lagged behind equivalent overseas standards, they have been progressively tightened to require more sophisticated vehicle engine and emission-control systems and improved fuel quality. Recent improvements in fuel quality have focused on greatly reducing sulfur content (particularly important in diesel engines, where high sulfur levels prevent the use of catalytic particle filters and NOx adsorbers) and lowering the volatility of fuels to reduce evaporative losses (a major source of VOCs) (Figure 3.33).

Figure 3.33

ppm = parts per million

Source: Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts175

Figure 3.33 Sulfur levels in premium unleaded petrol (PULP), unleaded or lead replacement petrol (ULP/LRP) and diesel, 2000–10

Point sources of pollution—industry

Environment agencies in the states and territories are responsible for controlling emission of pollutants from large industrial point sources, such as power stations, refineries, smelters, manufacturing plants, cement works and abattoirs. Various regulatory measures (including works approvals, licences and notices), together with emissions monitoring and modelling, and enforcement programs, are used to prevent emissions from individual point sources affecting health or amenity at the local level and to prevent such sources collectively leading to exceedence of national ambient standards at a larger scale. These tools are often supplemented by nonregulatory approaches, such as industry codes of best practice and programs to assist firms to identify and implement cleaner production approaches that provide both environmental and financial benefits.

Although discharges from industrial facilities are no longer the dominant source of most air pollutants in our metropolitan centres, a number of important regional centres host large-scale industrial facilities, such as metal smelters and petroleum refineries. Despite major gains in air quality achieved through improved pollution controls and cleaner forms of production, large industrial point sources still significantly affect air quality in some centres (e.g. Mount Isa and Port Pirie) and are therefore a focus for attention by environmental regulators.

Box 3.10 Major industrial point sources, Mount Isa

Mount Isa is home to one of Australia’s largest lead and zinc smelters. The lead–zinc and copper smelters, operated by the global mining company Xstrata plc since its 2003 takeover of MIM Holdings, have been a source of concern to the local community for decades, chiefly due to their emissions of sulfur dioxide and lead. In May 2011, the company announced that it would phase out copper smelting at Mount Isa by the end of 2016. Until 2008, the smelters operated under the Mount Isa Mines Limited Agreement Act 1985. This was one of a number of special agreement Acts applied to specific major industrial facilities that overrode stricter controls under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 and allowed much higher emission limits than elsewhere in Queensland.176

The MIM/Xstrata facilities met the relaxed requirements of the 1985 Act, including standards for sulfur dioxide and lead (as PM10—particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometres) in ambient air, as measured at monitoring stations around Mount Isa. However, despite a general downward trend in total sulfur dioxide air emissions from 2000–01 to 2006–07 (linked to improved pollution controls and cleaner production measures), the one-hour NEPM sulfur dioxide standard continues to be exceeded on a number of occasions each year at Mount Isa’s single NEPM monitoring station (Figures A and B).

Box 3.10 Figure A

Source: National Pollutant Inventory177

Figure A Total sulfur dioxide emissions to air, Mount Isa

Box 3.10 Figure B

NEPM = National Environment Protection Measure

Source: Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (Queensland air monitoring reports)178

Figure B NEPM exceedences of sulfur dioxide, Mount Isa

Figure C shows that Xstrata’s total lead emissions have fluctuated over the past decade. Available data show a downward trend since 2005–06, which may reflect improvement in pollution controls. Ambient lead monitoring results from five stations around Mount Isa (which record lead as PM10) show no clear reducing trend over the past five years. During that period, the NEPM annual average standard for lead of 0.50 micrograms per cubic metre was exceeded at three stations in 2008 and at one in 2009 (Figures D and E).

Box 3.10 Figure C

Source: National Pollutant Inventory177

Figure C Xstrata’s total lead emissions to air, Mount Isa

The 2008 amendments to the environmental protection and related Acts established a three-year transitional period, during which the Mount Isa facilities (and other facilities covered by special agreement Acts) have to come in line with national ambient air quality standards. During this period, the Department of Environment and Resource Management has worked with Xstrata and the local community through the Living with Lead Alliance to define best-practice standards that the company will have to meet. These will include tighter emissions standards aimed at ensuring that Mount Isa’s ambient air quality meets the national standards for sulfur dioxide, lead and other pollutants, as required under Queensland’s Environmental Protection (Air) Policy.

Box 3.10 Figure D

BSD = Base Supply Depot; µg/m3 = microgram per cubic metre; RSL = Returned and Services League

Source: Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management179

Figure D PM10 lead concentration

A running quarterly concentration is calculated monthly

Box 3.10 Figure E

BSD = Base Supply Depot; EPP = Environment Protection Policy; NEPM = National Environment Protection Measure; RSL = Returned and Services League

Source: Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management179

Figure E Total suspended particulate (TSP) lead concentration

Data are to January 2011. Annual average concentration is based on a calendar year

Diffuse sources of pollution—motor vehicles

The nature and scale of the impact of motor vehicles on air quality in our major cities is generally well understood (e.g. Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics;180 Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics;158 Environment Protection Authority Victoria141,181). Significant reductions in vehicular emissions followed the tightening of ADR emission limits for carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons in 1986, and the national introduction of three-way catalytic converters and unleaded fuel in the 1990s. These reductions have been maintained, despite increasing numbers of vehicles and distances travelled. By contrast, NOx levels continued to rise through the 1990s, because ADR NOx limits were not tightened until 1997–99, when ADR 37-01 was introduced. This, combined with continued growth in numbers of vehicles and distances travelled, resulted in a lag of several years before improved emission controls led to a plateauing of NOx levels.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has developed projections for metropolitan cities (Figure 3.34). These indicate continuing reductions in carbon monoxide, VOCs (evaporative and exhaust emissions), PM10 (exhaust emissions) and NOx through to 2020, due to the increasing proportion of newer vehicles that meet the latest ADR requirements for engine and emission controls, and to improved fuel standards. However, the projections are based on a ‘business as usual’ case—that is, continued economic and population growth, no domestic carbon price in place, no further emission standards (after 2007–08 for diesel vehicles and 2008–10 for light-duty petrol vehicles), and only mid-range increases in future petrol prices (based on International Energy Agency reference case projections). As a result, they do not factor in further reductions in emissions that should follow the progressive introduction of tighter standards announced by the Australian Government in June 2011.182

Figure 3.34

CO = carbon monoxide; NOx = nitrogen oxides; PM10 = particulate matter smaller than micrometres; SOx = sulfur oxides; VOC (evap + exhaust) = volatile organic compounds from evaporative and exhaust emissions

Source: Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics;180 D Cosgrove, Principal Research Scientist, Bureau of  Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, pers. comm., May 2011

Figure 3.34 Base-case projected growth in major pollutant emissions from motor vehicles for Australian metropolitan areas, 1990–2020 (index with 1990 = 100)

‘Metropolitan’ refers to all travel undertaken within the eight state and territory capital cities.

From 1 November 2013, Euro 5 emission standards for light vehicles will apply to all new-model vehicles, with existing models to comply from 1 November 2016. All new-model vehicles must comply with Euro 6 standards from 1 July 2017. Existing model vehicles must meet Euro 6 standards from 1 July 2018.183 As the regulation impact statement for the review of the Euro 5/6 light vehicle standards noted: ‘[adoption of the standards] would lead to significant reductions in NOx emissions from petrol vehicles, and HC and NOx emissions from diesel vehicles, and dramatic reductions in PM emissions from diesel vehicles’.183Table 3.10 summarises the expected improvement in emissions.

Table 3.10 Emissions reduction from adoption of Euro 5 and Euro 6 light vehicle standards
Vehicle fuel type Emission reduction (%)a
Euro 4 → Euro 5 Euro 5 → Euro 6
HCs NOx PM HCs NOx PM
Petrol/LPG 25 na
Diesel (and direct injection petrol) 25 30 80–90 26–40 55

– = no change; HCs = hydrocarbons; LPG = liquefied petroleum gas; na = not applicable; NOx = nitrogen oxides; PM = particulate matter

a To nearest 5%; a range indicates that the percentage reduction varies with vehicle category

Source: Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Transport183

These improvements, together with those associated with the earlier introduction of Euro 3 and Euro 4 standards, should continue to counter the effect of further growth in vehicle numbers and distances travelled.184-186 However, although the general outlook is therefore encouraging, it needs to be acknowledged that local vehicle pollution ‘hot-spots’ continue to exist in our major cities. These are usually associated with very heavily trafficked roads, often carrying a significant proportion of heavy commercial vehicles through residential areas.181 There is a growing body of evidence that residents living on or near such roads not only experience loss of amenity, but also suffer a range of adverse health effects.187-188

Box 3.11 Nitrogen dioxide—a future concern?

Although the outlook for the immediate future is for further reductions in motor vehicle emissions (primarily nitrogen oxides [NOx] and carbon monoxide), this is no basis for complacency, as the number of vehicles and total distance travelled continue to increase, potentially eroding past gains achieved through tighter standards and improved technology. In this context, it is worth noting increased concern in Europe over rising levels of nitrogen dioxide in urban air, attributable to vehicle emissions.189

This increase is associated with an increase in the nitrogen dioxide:NOx emissions ratio from road traffic. A study of roadside nitrogen dioxide and NOx levels in London from 1997 to 2003 showed a statistically significant fall in NOx averaged across 36 sites, but no significant trend in nitrogen dioxide. The study concluded that the increasing use of certain types of diesel particle filters on buses contributed significantly to the observed change, along with the growth in numbers of diesel passenger cars, and new technologies and management approaches being applied to light and heavy engines. Although peak nitrogen dioxide levels in Australia’s cities are only half to one-third the NEPM standard, the importance of diesel vehicles in the Australian fleet is continuing to increase, so the possibility of unintended consequences flowing from some types of improved diesel engine controls will need to be considered.6,190

Although diesel-fuelled registered vehicles still constitute only a relatively small fraction of all registered vehicles (2.2 million, or 13.8%, at 31 March 2010), these figures represent an increase of 57.4% over the previous five years.186 The progressive tightening of diesel fuel standards is expected to contribute to a reduction in particle and NOx levels over time (Figure 3.34) by enabling the use of catalytic particle filters and NOx adsorbers. The case study in Box 3.12 describes how agencies in New South Wales are working to build on the gains flowing from improved diesel fuel standards by supporting the retrofitting of exhaust emission-control devices to diesel engines in both on-road and off-road situations.

Box 3.12 Diesel vehicles pollution reduction programs

New South Wales (NSW) has been running two separate programs focusing on reducing exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles.

Diesel vehicle retrofit program

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, in conjunction with the NSW Roads and Transport Authority, has established a diesel vehicle retrofit program,191 which involves retrofitting engine exhausts with pollution reduction devices, primarily to reduce particulate pollution. Some devices can also reduce carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds via a catalyst.

The program, which commenced in 2005, has had more than 70 vehicle fleets participate and has retrofitted 520 vehicles. As at April 2011, it is estimated that completed retrofits will result in 4.7 tonnes less particulate pollution per year.

Clean Machine Program

The NSW Clean Machine Program began in 2010. It aims to reduce diesel exhaust emissions from diesel plant and equipment used mainly in construction and industrial activities, such as cranes, dozers, loaders, graders, tractors and pumps.

The Office of Environment and Heritage partners with public-sector and private-sector organisations to implement the program through improved procurement practices, worksite guidelines and the subsidised retrofit of older engines with pollution reduction devices. As at April 2011, five organisations had formally joined the pilot program and committed to retrofit up to 35 machines.

Diffuse sources of pollution—commercial and domestic

In major urban centres, air quality is also affected by many small commercial sources whose size and large numbers generally make a licence-based approach to control inefficient and impracticable. Similarly, numerous small domestic sources, such as lawn mowers and solid-fuel heaters, add to the overall burden of urban air pollutants and are difficult to regulate.

When problems do arise with small commercial sources, they often take the form of a loss of local amenity due to emissions of odour, dust or noise. Environment protection regulators most often come in contact with these local problems as a result of complaints from neighbours. Responses can include regulatory tools, such as abatement notices and compulsory works orders, or requirements to carry out an environmental audit to clarify the source of the problem and identify the most effective solution.

Often, however, such problems are best addressed proactively and at a larger scale, working with industry associations to inform small to medium-sized firms of cost-effective ways of improving environmental performance. In Victoria, the Environment Protection Authority has combined with the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry to run Grow Me the Money®.b,192This program assists firms to carry out audits and develop and implement action plans that will improve environmental outcomes (and often their relations with the neighbours), while improving their ‘bottom line’. A number of states operate similar cooperative schemes—for example, the CleanBiz program in Tasmania.c

Well-framed state land-use planning policies, together with local planning schemes and permits, also play an important part in preventing loss of local amenity due to emissions of odour, dust and noise from industrial and commercial premises. Use of planning controls to isolate offensive industrial and commercial operations from residential and other sensitive land uses is not an alternative to requiring such operations to comply with relevant environmental laws. However, planning controls have an important role to play by:

  • preventing sensitive uses from ‘coming to the menace’ (i.e. locating near incompatible noxious or dangerous facilities)
  • setting planning permit conditions that complement the requirements of environment protection regulators.193

Since the banning of incinerators from suburban backyards during the 1980s and 1990s, smoke from solid-fuel home heating has been the focus of concern about particulate pollution from domestic premises. Open fires and heaters that do not meet the relevant Australian standards (notably AS/NZ 2918 relating to installation, AS/NZS 4012 relating to power and efficiency, and AS/NZS 4013 relating to the rate of particle emission) are the major source of the problem. When compared with noncompliant appliances, modern compliant wood heaters should generate less than half the particulate pollution per kilogram of wood burned and one-third the pollution of open fires.

However, as Meyer et al.194 noted, measurement of in situ emission rates from some 20 households in Launceston showed that, when operated in homes, even compliant heaters do not meet the AS/NZS 4013 particle emission rate of four grams per kilogram of wood burned. The authors concluded that the main factor determining the rate of particle emissions is combustion efficiency, which depends on the rate of air flow. In most cases, they found that heaters were operated with dampers set to significantly reduce the air flow, thus generating higher PM10 emissions. They further concluded that the test protocol specified in AS/NZS 4013 failed to accurately represent emissions performance in domestic usage and that it should be replaced by a test cycle that properly reflects actual domestic operational practices.

During the past decade, the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (and its predecessors) and environment agencies in affected states and the Australian Capital Territory have worked on a number of fronts to reduce domestic wood smoke in urban areas. In Launceston, which faced a chronic wood smoke problem, the Australian Government (working with the state government and the City of Launceston) made available $2.05 million in rebates to assist residents to replace open fires and older wood heaters with modern, less polluting heaters, including natural gas heaters. By its end in 2004, the program had achieved a reduction in wood heater use in households from 45% to 30%.195

Federal, state and territory attention has also focused on:

  • supporting research into factors affecting emissions
  • further improving installation and emission standards
  • ensuring that new wood heaters meet the Australian standards (e.g. Victoria has required this via a statutory policy)
  • informing potential purchasers of the importance of buying a compliant heater and having it properly installed
  • running public education programs providing advice on best operating practices.
Planned burning

As noted in Section 3.2.2, recent work by the Environment Protection Division in Tasmania indicates that smoke from planned burns is a more significant source of diffuse particulate pollution than previously thought. The case study in Box 3.13 describes work being done in that state to monitor the effects of planned burning on air quality and to use real-time monitoring data to inform decision-making and management of burns.

Box 3.13 Tasmania’s planned burning issue

A key pressure on air quality in Tasmania is smoke emissions from planned (prescribed) burning that can impact on human health, amenity, tourism and viticulture. Most of the concern surrounds burning by the forestry industry in autumn, although other sectors contribute both in autumn and at other times of the year.

According to National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) data, smoke from planned burning contributes only 3% of total particle emissions in Tasmania.d However, a recent review indicates that the NPI methodology for estimating planned burn emissions is seriously deficient.159 It is now estimated that smoke from planned burning is responsible for approximately 50–80% of total particle emissions in Tasmania (the proportion varies from year to year, depending on the level of burning undertaken).196

Tasmania’s Forest Practices Authority, in consultation with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), has established the Coordinated Smoke Management System (CSMS).e The CSMS provides for the coordination of planned burns to minimise the risk of high smoke levels in individual airsheds. It restricts the number of burns on days when weather forecasts and modelling predict poor smoke dispersal. Participation is voluntary and is currently limited to major forestry operators and the Parks and Wildlife Service.

To facilitate the assessment of the effectiveness of the CSMS and to provide real-time air quality data that can be fed into the CSMS decision-making process, the BLANkET (Base-Line Air Network of EPA Tasmania) smoke-monitoring network has been established by the EPA. BLANkET consists of a network of 17 indicative air quality monitoring stations (Figure A). Stations are located in regions away from the major centres of Launceston and Hobart, but in areas near where the forest industry and other sectors conduct planned burns.

Box 3.13 Figure A

Figure A Air monitoring stations in Tasmania

Each BLANkET station consists of a low-cost optical particle counter that measures PM2.5 and PM10, a meteorological station and a communications link. Real-time data are displayed on the EPA Division’s website.f Performance of the stations has been very good, and there is high correlation between data from BLANkET and from reference low-volume air samplers at National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) monitoring stations. The indicative data collected from the BLANkET network show that daily average particle levels above the NEPM PM10 standard and the NEPM PM2.5 reporting standard are sometimes measured in communities close to planned burn events.

The technology developed for the BLANkET network could also be used to facilitate the determination of population exposure to PM2.5 and PM10. For Tasmania, this approach is likely to provide a more realistic estimate of population exposure than inventory development and modelling, and at a lower cost.

Source: Tasmania Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (EPA Division)197

3.3.3 Indoor air quality

Whereas Australia has had national standards and goals set for key pollutants in outdoor (i.e. ambient) air, there are no standards or guidelines for pollutant levels in indoor air. There are regulations and codes that address indoor air quality, but (with the exception of regulations dealing with gas heating appliances) these apply to workplaces and to commercial premises and public buildings, rather than to residential dwellings.152 Despite these limitations, Australian governments have actively sought to improve indoor air quality through a range of interventions (both regulatory and nonregulatory) targeting environmental tobacco smoke and unflued gas heaters.

In the case of environmental tobacco smoke (also known as passive smoking), powers to control smoking in public places lie mostly with state and territory governments. All states and territories prohibit smoking in cinemas and theatres (originally motivated by concern over risk of fire), in most types of public transport and in areas where food is prepared. Over the past decade or so, most jurisdictions have extended such prohibitions to cover cars carrying children and a wide variety of public places, including government buildings, airports, premises where food is consumed, pubs and nightclubs, and shopping centres. Increasingly, similar bans are being applied to various outdoor public spaces. States and territories have also used occupational health and safety legislation to require smoke-free work environments.198

As noted in Section 3.2.3, there is concern about the impact of unflued gas heaters on indoor air quality and therefore health. Although these heaters are primarily known as a source of nitrogen dioxide, they also produce carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Unflued gas heaters are regulated in all states and territories. Although the regulations vary between jurisdictions, they all require compliance with Australian standards AS 4553-2000 (AG 103-2000): Gas space heating appliances, and AS 5601-2002 (AG 601-2002): Gas installations.199 However, as various studies have shown, conformity with the Australian standards does not guarantee that levels of nitrogen dioxide will not adversely affect health.167-168

In New South Wales, longstanding public concern over the use of unflued low-NOx gas heaters in schools led the government to commission a major independent review of respiratory health effects on children exposed to such heaters. The review, by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, found that, although exposure to these heaters was not linked to significant reductions in lung function, it did cause an increase in respiratory symptoms, especially in children with a predisposition towards developing allergic reactions. The review concluded that ‘it is important to seek alternative sources of heating that do not have adverse effects on health’.200 In response, the New South Wales Minister for Education and Training announced in July 2010 that the use of unflued heaters would be phased out in all New South Wales public schools.201

Assessment summary 3.9—effectiveness of atmospheric management
Summary Assessment grade Confidence
Ineffective Partially effective Effective Very effective in grade in trend
Stratospheric ozone  
Understanding: High level of understanding of nature and sources of ozone depleting substances (ODSs) and of the chemical processes through which they impact on stratospheric ozone. Likely future effect of greenhouse gases on recovery of stratospheric ozone is not as well understood. Links between reductions in ozone in the stratosphere, increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and health effects (notably increased risk of skin cancer) are well understood        Improving  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Planning: Signatories to the Montreal Protocol have well-established planning, policy-setting and regulatory mechanisms to give effect to their obligations to phase out ODSs        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Inputs: The necessary public and private sector resources are being applied to achieve phase-out schedules agreed under the Montreal Protocol. Assistance is available to developing nations to implement agreed phase-outs        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Processes: A range of processes have been established under the Montreal Protocol to facilitate and monitor action by signatories to implement agreed phase-outs        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Outputs and outcomes: World production of ODSs continues to decline, and monitoring shows that atmospheric levels of ODSs peaked in the mid-1990s        Improving  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Pollution (industrial point sources)  
Understanding: Very good understanding of air pollutants (types, sources and processes), of relevant industries and industrial processes, and of technologies and practices to prevent or control pollution        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Planning: States and territories have well-established plans, policies and regulatory systems to monitor and control these sources        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Inputs: Levels of resourcing to support regulatory and nonregulatory programs vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, generally reflecting the nature and extent of industrial sources in the state or territory        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Processes: All jurisdictions have well-established process to monitor and control these sources, including inspection and enforcement processes        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Outputs and outcomes: Jurisdictions apply works approvals, licensing and related regulatory mechanisms to limit types and quantities of pollutant emissions. Although performance levels vary, inspection and enforcement by environmental regulators, together with emissions monitoring and reporting, provide a sound basis for ensuring effective control of these sources        Improving  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Pollution—diffuse sources (motor vehicles)  
Understanding: Very good understanding of pollution types, sources and processes, and of interaction of fuels and control technologies        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Planning: Australian Government and state governments cooperate in relation to planning introduction of improved fuel and technology standards. Appropriate policy and legislative standards in place at national and state and territory levels        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Inputs: Adequate resourcing at national level for development and enforcement of standards for fuels and new-vehicle technology. Resourcing for in-service vehicle testing and enforcement at state and territory level is variable      Stable    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Processes: Respective roles of Australian Government and state and territory governments are clear. Well-established national processes for promulgating and enforcing fuel and new-vehicle emission-control standards, and good coordination between Australian Government and state and territory governments via ministerial councils and officials' working groups        Stable  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Outputs and outcomes: National fuel and new-vehicle emission technology standards continue to be tightened. Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics projections show continuing improvements in vehicle pollutant emissions until 2020      Improving    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Pollution—diffuse sources (commercial and domestic)  
Understanding: Generally sound understanding of pollution types, sources and processes (chiefly via the National Pollutant Inventory [NPI] and state agency emissions inventories), although the reliance on United States data for some NPI emission factors (in the absence of verification) raises concerns about the accuracy of some NPI data      Stable    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Planning: States and territories and (in some jurisdictions) municipalities have established plans, policies and regulatory systems to monitor and control these sources      Stable    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Inputs: Resourcing levels to support regulatory and nonregulatory programs vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and among municipalities      Stable    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Processes: All states and territories (and many municipalities) have well-established processes to monitor and control these sources, including inspection and enforcement processes      Stable    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Outputs and outcomes: Generally effective control of diffuse emissions such as volatile organic compounds from commercial premises and particles (wood smoke) from homes benefits air quality at both the airshed and local level. Ambient monitoring against the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards shows that the standards are met on the great majority of days in all major cities. However, complaints about smoke and odour at the local level continue to be a major focus for investigation and enforcement action by state and municipal officials      Stable    Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Pollution—diffuse sources (planned burning)  
Understanding: Recent work in Tasmania indicates that smoke from planned burns is a more significant source of diffuse particulate pollution than previously believed    Improving      Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Planning: Burning for forestry regeneration and related operations and for fuel reduction and habitat management purposes on public land is subject to various guidelines or codes of practice and is usually well planned and executed. Individual property managers make decisions on timing for planned agricultural burning, but must observe any local, regional and statewide restrictions      Stable    Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Inputs: Highly variable; unable to assess          Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment  Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Processes: In most, if not all, states and territories, authorities responsible for planned burns associated with forest operations and management burns on public land have formal arrangements with environment protection agencies, health agencies and local municipalities, which cover prior notification, suitability of local meteorological conditions, monitoring and public health warnings      Stable    Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Outputs and outcomes: Although the position is variable among jurisdictions, there is anecdotal evidence indicating improved cooperation between agencies responsible for planned burning and environment and health authorities. There is also improved notification and greater recognition of the significance of local impacts on health, amenity, tourism and so on    Improving      Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Indoor air quality  
Understanding: Although understanding is improving as a result of recent studies, most have focused on particular problems, such as unflued gas heaters or environmental tobacco smoke    Improving      Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Planning: Although there are Australian standards for building materials and home heating devices, there is no national standard for indoor air quality  Stable        Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Inputs: Variable across jurisdictions. Attention is largely restricted to unflued gas heaters and environmental tobacco smoke    Stable      Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Processes: Unflued gas heaters are regulated in all jurisdictions. There has been significant growth in restrictions on smoking indoors    Improving      Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Outputs and outcomes: Some areas of significant improvement (e.g. restrictions on indoor smoking in public venues and workplaces; New South Wales phase-out of unflued gas heaters in public schools), but overall highly variable    Improving      Limited evidence or limited consensus  Limited evidence or limited consensus
Recent trends  Improving  Stable Confidence  Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
 Deteriorating  Unclear  Limited evidence or limited consensus
 Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Grades  Very effective  Effective  Partially effective  Ineffective