Summary

Woodheater infographic icon

Particle concentrations in regional areas exceeded national standards up to

151 days a year

between 2018 and 2020

Magnifying glass looking at ozone on ground infographic icon

Ground level ozone in Sydney exceeded national standards up to

28 days a year

between 2018 and 2020 in Sydney

NSW air quality was generally good in 2018 and most of 2020. However, particle pollution soared in 2019 due to the continuing drought and unprecedented extensive bushfires. Concentrations of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and sulfur dioxide generally complied with national air quality standards, but levels of particles and ozone pollution continued to be of concern.

Why managing air pollution is important

Air pollution is the release of particles and gases into the air that can adversely affect human health and the environment. Short-term exposure to elevated air pollutants worsens respiratory and cardiovascular problems and increases the risk of acute symptoms, hospitalisation and even death. Longer-term exposure can lead to chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease and mortality and permanently affect lung development in children.

The impacts of air pollution can vary according to its source, location and the weather conditions. Pollution may spread over large areas and affect many people or it may be concentrated on communities at a smaller, more local scale. High levels of air pollution can cause severe health conditions, but even low levels of pollution that meet air quality standards can potentially harm those exposed over the long term. Vulnerable people, including the elderly, children and those with chronic health conditions, are generally the most affected.

NSW indicators

Indicator and status Environmental
trend
Information
reliability
Concentrations of ozone
Moderate status meter
Stable ✔✔✔
Concentrations of particles (PM10*)
Moderate status meter
Stable ✔✔✔
Concentrations of particles (PM2.5**)
Moderate status meter
Stable ✔✔✔
Concentrations of carbon monoxide
Good status meter
Stable ✔✔✔
Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide
Good status meter
Stable ✔✔✔
Concentrations of sulfur dioxide
Good status meter
Stable ✔✔✔
Concentrations of lead
Good status meter
Stable ✔✔

Notes:

Terms and symbols used above are defined in  How to use this report.

PM10 refers to particles which are 10 micrometres (10μm) or less in diameter.

** PM2.5 refers to particles which are 2.5 micrometres (2.5μm) or less across.

Status and Trends

Smaller particles in the air are invisible to the naked eye and can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Two sizes of airborne particles are monitored: PM10 with particles 10 micrometres or less in diameter and even tinier PM2.5 particles which are 2.5 micrometres or less across. Growing evidence about the adverse health impacts of these particles prompted a tightening of national air quality standards to better address this issue.

Particle pollution generally meets national air quality standards in Sydney, except when natural events such as bushfires or dust storms occur and during hazard reduction burns. Between 2018 and 2020, PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations exceeded the national air quality standards on up to 58 days a year in Sydney and up to 151 days a year in regional areas of NSW. These maximum readings were largely due to dust storms and the 2019–20 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires and were the highest in NSW since 1996.

Concentrations of ground-level ozone, a key component of photochemical smog, exceeded national air quality standards in Sydney on six or fewer days in 2018 and 2020 – similar to most years since 2010 – but climbed to a record 28 days in 2019. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are the main precursors of ozone and they generally originate in emissions from industrial facilities, power stations and motor vehicle exhausts. The elevated ozone levels in 2019 reflected that year’s warm dry weather and emissions from extensive bushfires.

The levels of other pollutants of potential concern, such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, are typically 25–75% lower than the national air quality standards across NSW.

Spotlight figure 8: Monthly average PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) levels over 5 years from select monitoring stations

Notes:

Plot band highlights the 2019–2020 bushfires. Monitoring stations with 5 years of data and representative of the region’s air quality have been selected.

Source:
DPIE calculation from NEMP Air Quality monitoring stations.

Monthly average PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) readings in Spotlight figure 8 show that while on average NSW has good air quality, there are measurable impacts on air quality from:

  • bushfires, notably the unprecedented Black Summer bushfires in late 2019 through to early 2020
  • seasonal variability with higher concentrations in winter, from the use of wood heaters, agricultural burning, as well as the natural impact of less air movement during cooler months due to temperature inversions
  • drought conditions in 2017 to 2020, where vegetation coverage was lower, and topsoil was more easily picked up by wind
  • the impact of longer term weather factors, such as improvements from mid-2020 onwards due to wetter conditions caused by La Nina.

Pressures

Every day activities can affect air quality in NSW. The transport we use, how we heat our homes and the industries producing our goods and services – all generate a range of air pollutants that can threaten our health.

Exposure to hazardous levels of air pollution can be expected during extreme events, such as the increasing number of bushfires and dust storms. Climate change is likely to result in changes to more and different air pollution episodes, which could be characterised by high pollutant levels lasting up to several days extending over wider areas. Air quality in our cities is also under pressure from population and economic growth.

Responses

The NSW air quality monitoring network is the largest in Australia with more than 90 long-term stations, well in excess of the number recommended by the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure.

The NSW Government regulates industry emissions to air and also monitors and delivers coal mine dust management compliance campaigns. These are to ensure open cut coal mines in the upper Hunter minimise particle emissions. Other campaigns include regulating the sale of wood heaters, supporting local councils in managing wood smoke from domestic wood heaters through periodic Wood Smoke Reduction Programs and providing community education materials.

The NSW Government also implements strategies such as the Summer Petrol Volatility Program and the Vapour Recovery Program to reduce petrol emissions from service stations. The national air quality standards for ozone were revised in 2021 to reflect health evidence and Australia’s climate.

Air quality is also a key component of other government strategies. These include the Net Zero Plan, NSW Electricity Strategy, NSW Electric Vehicle Strategy, NSW Hydrogen Strategy, Greater Sydney Regional Plan - A Metropolis of Three Cities, NSW Freight and Ports Plan, Future Transport 2056 and NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap. These strategies all include goals and actions to improve air quality. The government, through DPIE and the EPA, also conducts air quality research and modelling and advocates at the national level for improved air quality standards.

Related topics: Climate Change  | Energy Consumption  | Greenhouse Gas Emissions  | Transport

Context

Air pollution has negative impacts on health. Short-term exposure to elevated air pollutants worsens respiratory and cardiovascular problems and increases the risk of acute symptoms, hospitalisation and death ( NEPC 2014 ). Long-term exposure increases the risk of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease and mortality and may impact birth weight and permanently affect lung development in children ( WHO 2013b ). More information on health effects of air pollution is available from the NSW Health website air pollution pages.

The most common air pollutants in NSW generally occur well below dangerous levels. The main air pollutants of concern are:

  • particles (PM5 and PM10)
  • ground-level ozone (O3).

Oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) are also important as precursors of ozone and secondary particle pollution, as well as pollutants in their own right.

The main human sources of these pollutants are:

  • industry
  • motor vehicles
  • other transport activities and non-road engines
  • domestic wood smoke.

Other sources include smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns and dust storms. Bushfires and dust storms may be caused by natural events, but are also influenced by human activity.

Australians spend an average of 20 hours a day indoors, largely at home ( enHealth 2012 ). As a result, there may be greater personal exposure to indoor airborne pollutants than to air pollution outdoors.

Indoor emissions can come from building fixtures, fittings and furniture especially from new housing, indoor activities such as heating and cooking, chemical cleaning products, solvents, tobacco smoke and outdoor air pollutants that have come inside. Indoor air pollution may also be of biologic origin, such as from moulds and animal dander. Allergic reactions can result from repeated exposure and immunologic sensitisation to the biologic pollutants.

Each year, human-made air pollution shortens the lives of people in NSW. For example, Broome et al. (2020)  has estimated that 5,900 years of life are lost each year due to long-term exposure to fine particles in the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region (Sydney, the Lower and Upper Hunter, Central Coast and the Illawarra). This equates to a mortality effect equivalent to 420 premature deaths.

Greenhouse gas emissions are also a form of air pollution which impacts human health by driving climate change and extreme weather events. These are covered separately in the Greenhouse gas and Climate change topics.

Economic costs of air pollution

Air pollution from fine particles is estimated to cause $3.3 billion (2019 AUD) in health costs each year in the NSW GMR. This is based on an inflation-adjusted value for a statistical life of $8 million by Access Economics (2008)   applied to the 420 deaths estimated by Broome et al. (2020) . Frangos & DiMarco (2013)  and Broome et al. (2015)  estimated similar mortality impacts in earlier studies.

Smoke related health impacts from bushfires can also be significant. The smoke related health costs of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20 have been estimated at approximately $1.1 billion for NSW and $1.95 billion Australia wide. This is based on an estimated 429 smoke related premature deaths, 3,230 hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory disorders and 1,523 emergency attendances for asthma across Australia ( Johnston et al. 2021 ).

The National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) establishes national ambient air quality standards and a national framework for the monitoring and reporting of seven common air pollutants:

  • ground-level ozone (O3
  • particles as PM10
  • particles as PM5
  • carbon monoxide (CO) 
  • nitrogen dioxide (NO2
  • sulfur dioxide (SO2).

The national standards are the levels of air pollutants that each jurisdiction reports against each year as part of the implementation and measure of effectiveness of the AAQ NEPM.

In 2016, the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) varied the AAQ NEPM to establish more stringent national standards for particle pollution (PM10 and PM2.5). This was in response to increasing awareness of the risks posed by fine particles.

The national standards for ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide were reviewed and revised in April 2021. The changes to the standards were based on recent health evidence and consistent with many international jurisdictions and included:

  • more stringent nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide standards
  • removal of the annual average sulfur dioxide standard
  • establishment of an 8-hour average ozone standard and removal of the 1-hour and 4-hour standards
  • removal of allowable exceedances to maximum values to provide greater transparency in reporting
  • application of an ‘exceptional event’ rule for ozone

Further review of ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide standards, as well as the planned review of PM10 and PM2.5, will occur in 2025.

Table 8.1 lists the new standards and goals. The section on particles provides details of the changes to standards and goals for PM10 and PM2.5.

Table 8.1: National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards

Pollutant Averaging period Standard (maximum concentration)
Carbon monoxide 8-hour rolling average  9.0 ppm*
Nitrogen dioxide 1-hour average  0.080 ppm
1-year average  0.015 ppm
Photochemical oxidants – as ozone  8-hour rolling average 0.065 ppm
Sulfur dioxide  1-hour average  0.100 ppm
24-hour average  0.020 ppm
Particles as PM10  24-hour average 50.0 µg/m3**
1-year average  25.0 µg/m3
Particles as PM2.5  24-hour average 25.0 µg/m3
1-year average  8.0 µg/m3
Lead 1-year average  0.50 µg/m3

Notes:

* ppm = parts per million

** µg/m3 = micrograms per cubic metre

In 2021, the goal for ozone was revised from 1-hour and 4-hour rolling averages to an 8-hour rolling average and from allowing one exceedance day per year to no exceedances, unless determined as an exceptional event. Information about averaging periods is available on the DPIE website.

Source:
AAQ NEPM

The NSW Government operates Australia’s most comprehensive air quality monitoring network with more than 90 long-term stations in 2021. These provide the community with accurate up-to-date air quality information on an hourly basis. Standard monitoring stations and rural network stations make up the network which is shown in Maps 8.1 and 8.2:

  • A total of 55 standard monitoring stations are long-term stations that use NATA-compliant monitoring of pollutants and meteorology in accordance with Australian standards. These are shown in Maps 8.1 and 8.2 as ‘standard monitoring stations’ (NEPM), ‘Industry-funded stations’ and a ‘Roadside monitoring station’ (Non-NEPM). All stations measure particles as PM10. Other pollutants monitored at some of these stations include those shown in Table 8.1, excluding lead.
  • Thirty-nine rural network stations, shown in Map 8.1, monitor for particles as PM5 and PM10 using indicative monitoring techniques due to constraints such as access to grid-based power supply. This includes major rural centres such as Dubbo, Parkes and Broken Hill, as well as a few remote-sensing stations in South Australia and Victoria for early warning of dust storm activity.

Eleven new standard stations were established during 2018–2020 in the Sydney CBD (Cook & Phillip) and at Penrith, Lidcombe, Rouse Hill, Bradfield Highway (roadside monitoring), Armidale, Goulburn, Orange, Morisset, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. The Merriwa background air quality monitoring station in the Upper Hunter was upgraded in July 2020 to monitor particles as PM2.5, visibility, ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

The NSW Government also undertakes special purpose monitoring, such as incident response monitoring. This involves the capacity to monitor air pollution incidents lasting from several days to many months. The capability has been deployed in response to multiple incidents since 2017. For example, in response to the NSW 2019–20 bushfires, nine emergency air quality monitors were deployed to locations near smoke-affected communities to deliver data online updated hourly, together with health alerts and forecasts. This was to inform NSW communities of air quality risk due to the impact of bushfires.

The NSW Air Quality Monitoring Plan 2021–2025 was published in late 2020, with a minor updated version released in April 2021. The NSW Government continually reviews its air quality monitoring activity and the plan outlines how ambient air quality will be monitored in metropolitan and regional areas over the 2021–2025 period. The monitoring network is critical for assessing the state’s air quality, the spatial and temporal variation in air pollutants and evaluating pollutant exposure. Monitoring data is also used to distinguish between areas where pollutant levels exceed or meet the ambient air quality standards. Based in part on the monitoring data collected, strategies, programs, and regulations are developed to achieve required emission reductions. Data from the ambient monitoring network is then used to assess the efficacy of these responses.

Map 8.1: The NSW air quality monitoring network

Map showing locations of air monitoring stations in New South Wales

Notes:

Air quality monitoring regions (station groups), including rural monitoring network, regional centres and the Greater Metropolitan Region or GMR (Sydney, Illawarra, Central Coast, Lower Hunter and the Upper Hunter). All regions except for the Upper Hunter include NEPM-designated stations.

Access the interactive version of this map.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

Map 8.2: Air quality monitoring network in the NSW GMR

Close up of map showing locations of air monitoring stations in the Upper Hunter region and GMR

Notes:

Air quality monitoring stations in the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

NSW consistently complied with the applicable national standards and goals during the 2018–2020 period for:

  • carbon monoxide (CO)
  • nitrogen dioxide (NO2) except for one exceedance of the 1-hour average standard at Goulburn in December 2019 due to bushfire smoke
  • sulfur dioxide (SO2).

As motor vehicles, fuels and industries have improved:

  • CO levels are now generally only high when traffic is congested and there is little or no wind or due to nearby vegetation fires
  • NO2 and SO2 levels are usually 25–75% lower than the standards.

Monitoring of ambient lead was discontinued from January 2005, following a decrease in lead levels to well within the national standard, largely due to the introduction of unleaded petrol.

Particles and ozone levels continue to be of concern (see the sections below).

Small airborne particles (particularly PM10 and PM2.5) are invisible to the naked eye, with PM2.5 pollution also known as ‘fine particle pollution’. PM10 particles are 10 micrometres or less in diameter. They include PM2.5 particles which are 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter and are also monitored separately.

While it can be annoying, visible dust deposited on household surfaces is not considered a health hazard.

Ongoing research shows that the smaller the particles, the greater their potential hazard to health ( WHO 2013b ). Smaller particles (PM2.5) can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs. As well as causing respiratory irritation, some are small enough to pass into the bloodstream where, even at relatively low levels, they may trigger heart attacks in people with health conditions and severely affect children and the elderly ( WHO 2013a ).

Particle pollution includes primary particles directly emitted from sources and secondary particles produced by chemical reactions in the air involving other particles or gaseous pollutants such as:

  • sulfur (SO2)
  • NOx (includes nitrogen dioxide NO2 and nitric oxide NO)
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • ammonia (NH3).

These emissions are caused by a combination of natural and human sources. 

The most significant human sources of primary particle emissions are:

  • coal mining
  • domestic wood heaters
  • electricity generation
  • on-road and non-road diesel vehicles (such as bulldozers, locomotives and ships)
  • hazard reduction burns.

The main human sources of secondary particle precursor emissions are:

  • electricity generation
  • domestic aerosol and solvent use
  • domestic lawnmowing and garden equipment.

Major natural sources of primary particles and secondary precursors include:

  • bushfires
  • windborne dust
  • sea salt spray
  • emissions of VOCs from vegetation
  • pollen and spores from grasses, plants and trees.

Fine particles can be transported by wind and other air movement between regions.

Particle concentrations are monitored across the NSW GMR (Sydney, the Lower and Upper Hunter, Central Coast and the Illawarra), which takes in about 75% of the NSW population, and some regional centres to measure compliance with national standards. Levels recorded in regional centres are generally representative of the air quality in surrounding regions with concentrations also varying according to the sources and the seasons. 

Between 2018 and 2020, particle concentrations exceeded the national air quality standards on up to 58 days a year in Sydney and a maximum of 151 days in parts of regional NSW. These recorded extremes both occurred during 2019, when smoke from bushfires and windblown dust from poor ground cover impacted much of NSW in the latter half of the year.

Changes to standards and goals

In 2016, the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) amended the AAQ NEPM to introduce more protective standards and goals for fine particles. NEPC plans to further tighten the PM2.5 standards in 2025 by reducing the 24-hour average measure to 20 µg/m3 and the annual average to 7 µg/m3. The 2016 amendment also removed any allowable exceedances but instead requires reporting for ‘exceptional events’, such as a fire or dust storm that:

  • adversely affects air quality at a specific location
  • causes an exceedance that is higher than normal historical fluctuations and background levels
  • is directly related to bushfires, authorised hazard reduction burning or continental-scale windblown dust.

PM10

Elevated PM10 concentrations occur in both metropolitan and regional areas and vary from year to year.

The greatest number of days with PM10 levels above the 24-hour standard in the NSW GMR and regional centres occurred during the severe drought between 2017 and 2020 and concurrent with bushfires in 2019 and 2020.

Figures 8.1 and 8.2 show the impacts of drought, bushfires, hazard reduction burns and dust storms causing spikes in PM10 exceedances included:

  • severe drought in 2018 to early 2020, leading to increases in windblown dust storms, particularly in regional locations
  • ‘Black Summer’ (September 2019 to February 2020) bushfires which impacted most of NSW
  • bushfires in 1994 and 2001–2003 in Sydney and the Hunter region
  • millennium drought from 2000–2010, particularly intense between 2006 and 2009, leading to major statewide dust storms in September and December 2009
  • the NSW bushfire emergency in late 2013
  • hazard reduction burns in Sydney in May 2016, August 2017 and April–August 2018.

Figure 8.1: Number of days exceeding the AAQ NEPM 24-hour standard for particles (PM10) NSW GMR, 1994–2020

Notes:

To ensure consistency in presenting trends, all exceedances, including those due to exceptional events, are presented.
PM10 monitoring commenced at the Central Coast in 2012.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

Figure 8.2: Number of days exceeding the AAQ NEPM 24-hour standard for particles (PM10) in NSW regional centres, 2002–2020

Notes:

To ensure consistency in presenting trends, all exceedances, including those due to exceptional events, are presented.
PM10 monitoring in regional centres outside the GMR was limited before 2002.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

PM2.5 (fine particles)

Monitoring results for PM2.5 include fine particle pollution caused by dust storms, bushfires and hazard reduction burns.

Figure 8.3 shows maximum annual concentrations of PM2.5 recorded in the NSW GMR. Large-scale, drought-related dust storms caused maxima in 2003 and 2009. The maxima in 2016 through 2018 were related mainly to hazard reduction burns, while large maxima in 2019 and 2020 were related to the ‘Black Summer’ (September 2019 to February 2020) bushfires.

Figure 8.3: Annual maximum 24 hour average concentrations for particles (PM2.5) in the NSW GMR, 1996–2020

The largest occurrence of exceedance days shown in Figure 8.4 relate to bushfires in 2001, 2002, 2013, 2019 and 2020.

Figure 8.4: Number of days exceeding the AAQ NEPM 24-hour standard for particles (PM2.5) in the NSW GMR, 1996–2020

Notes:

To ensure consistency in presenting trends, all exceedances, including those due to exceptional event, are presented. 

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

In most regions, the impact of the 2019–20 bushfires was more significant than other previous events in terms of the number of exceedance days (Figure 8.5).

Figure 8.5: Number of days exceeding the AAQ NEPM 24-hour standard for particles (PM2.5) in NSW regional centres, 2011–2020

Notes:

To ensure consistency in presenting trends, all exceedances, including those due to exceptional events, are presented.
PM2.5 monitoring started at Wagga Wagga North in 2011, Bathurst and Tamworth in 2016 and Albury in 2017.
Agricultural stubble burning in the Riverina region contributed to particle exceedance days in some years at Wagga Wagga.
No exceedance days were recorded at Wagga Wagga North in 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

Ozone (O3) is present in both the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) and the lower atmosphere (troposphere). The ‘ozone layer’ in the stratosphere protects all life forms by reducing the intensity of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation.

While stratospheric ozone is not a pollutant, tropospheric (‘ground-level’) ozone is an air pollutant harmful to human health and the environment ( WHO 1998 ).

Tropospheric ozone is formed when its precursors NOx and VOCs react in the presence of sunlight. Bushfires can contribute significantly to high ozone concentrations over downwind areas.

Ozone precursors can be emitted from human activities or natural sources, such as vegetation. Human sources include:

  • industrial emissions
  • on-road and non-road vehicle exhaust and evaporative emissions
  • household and commercial solvent emissions
  • agriculture (ammonia emissions).

Ozone was traditionally only measured at stations in Sydney, the Lower Hunter, the Illawarra and on the Central Coast. This was because high short-term ozone concentrations were unlikely to be experienced elsewhere due to lower traffic, commercial and industrial emissions of NOx and VOCs.

Monitoring of ozone in regional locations began in Gunnedah in 2018, Goulburn in 2019 and Merriwa in 2020. Five additional regional centres were also monitored for ozone during the 2020–21 summer for comparison against a revised eight-hour ozone standard (adopted in April 2021). Except for exceedances due to bushfire smoke, there have been no other recordings of ozone levels above the previous or revised standards in regional areas.

Elevated ozone concentrations tend to occur during warmer months, so are likely to be exacerbated by future climate change ( DECCW 2010 ; Lacressonnière et al. 2014 ).

In April 2021, the AAQ NEPM was amended by replacing the 1-hour and 4-hour average standards for ozone with an 8-hour rolling average standard of 0.065 ppm.

The maximum allowable exceedance of one day per year was also removed and replaced with the ‘exceptional events’ rule that applies to the particle standards (see Table 8.1). 

While all parts of Sydney have experienced ozone concentrations above the former AAQ NEPM standards, the west and south-west are more exposed to high levels ( DECCW 2010 ). This is due to summertime patterns of atmospheric circulation in the Sydney Basin, when sea breezes carry ozone and its precursors NOx and VOCs to this area ( Jiang et al. 2016 ; and 2017 ).

Across NSW GMR subregions, ozone levels increased from 1994 to 2002 and then stabilised from 2003 onwards (Figure 8.6). The major emission sources contributing to ozone formation in the GMR are motor vehicles, commercial-domestic sources, vegetation and power stations. For more information on ozone in the GMR, see Chang et al. 2019a  and Duc et al. 2018 .

Figure 8.6: Trends in annual average ozone (O3) levels for 1994–2018 by region

Notes:

pphm = parts per hundred million.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

In recent years, Sydney has had fewer days where ozone levels exceeded national standards, but there is no discernible upward or downward trend in average ozone levels. However, Sydney has exceeded one or both former ozone standards on at least one day every year since 1994 (see Figures 8.7 and 8.8).

Figure 8.7: Number of days exceeding the one-hour AAQ NEPM standard for ozone in the NSW GMR, 1994–2020

Notes:

A day is counted only once per region, even if exceedances occur at multiple monitoring sites on that particular day.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

Figure 8.8: Number of days exceeding the four-hour AAQ NEPM standard for ozone was exceeded in the NSW GMR, 1994–2020

Notes:

A day is counted only once per region, even if exceedances occur at multiple monitoring sites on that particular day.

Source:
DPIE air quality monitoring

Since 1994, ozone concentrations in Sydney have exceeded the former one-hour standard on up to 19 days a year (in 2001) and exceeded the former rolling 4-hour standard on up to 28 days per year (in 2019).

Other observations about ozone readings in the NSW GMR include:

  • A significant number of ozone exceedance days coincided with high levels of bushfire smoke in all regions in 2019 and in Sydney in 1994, 1997 and 2001.
  • Of the 28 ozone exceedance days recorded in 2019, 18 days were because of bushfire smoke during October and December and 10 days occurred during heatwaves in January and February.
  • In the Illawarra region, ozone concentrations exceeded both standards on up to seven days per year in 60% of the years recorded.
  • In the Lower Hunter region, five exceedances were recorded in 2019 due to bushfire smoke, the highest number of days since 1994.

Figures 8.9 and 8.10 show the annual maximum recorded concentrations of ozone for each GMR subregion from 1994 to 2020. These have been highest in Sydney and generally lowest in the Lower Hunter region.

Figure 8.9: Annual maximum one-hour average concentrations for ozone in the NSW GMR, 1994–2020

Figure 8.10: Annual maximum four-hour-average concentrations for ozone in the NSW GMR, 1994–2020

Reasons for the standard being exceeded

The number of days when ozone standards are exceeded in a year depends on weather and the temporal and spatial distributions of precursor emissions (NOx and VOCs). For example, high temperatures and intense sunlight can drive chemical reactions between NOx and VOCs, forming ozone from motor vehicle, household, commercial and industrial emissions. Bushfires and hazard reduction burns also contribute to ozone exceedances, with high concentrations of NOx and VOCs occurring in smoke plumes ( DECCW 2010 ; Jiang et al. 2017 ).

In 2004, the NEPC established the National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure (Air Toxics NEPM) to help manage toxic air pollutants, namely: 

  • benzene
  • toluene
  • xylenes
  • formaldehyde
  • benzo(α)pyrene (BaP).

NSW previously met the NEPM requirement to estimate human exposure to the five air toxics using a consistent national framework. The most recent ambient air toxics monitoring ( NEPC 2010: Tables 1–5 ) showed that concentrations of all these pollutants were well below the investigation levels that would trigger the NEPM requirement for ongoing monitoring.

The 2013 Air Emissions Inventory for the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region ( EPA 2019 ) shows a fall in the emissions of all five NEPM air toxics in the GMR compared to 2008 by:

  • 13% for benzene
  • 3% for toluene
  • 6% for xylene
  • 23% for formaldehyde
  • 10% for total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Since 2013, a fall in air toxic emissions from motor vehicles – a major source of all these compounds – is expected to have contributed to a further decline in ambient air toxic concentrations.

Poor indoor air quality may cause a range of health effects from mild, non-specific symptoms, such as headaches, tiredness or lethargy, to more severe effects, such as an aggravation of asthma and allergic responses.

Indoor air pollutants include:

  • emissions from building furniture and fittings and chemical cleaning products
  • biological contaminants, such as pet hair, skin and saliva, dust mites and mould spores
  • dust and lead particles disturbed by renovations in older buildings
  • ambient air pollution, particularly fine particles and gases, infiltrating from outdoors ( Sheppeard et al. 2006 ).

Poor indoor air quality in NSW homes is also caused by:

  • secondary tobacco smoke and emissions from wood heaters
  • emissions from gas stoves and unflued gas heaters.

The most recent data shows declines in:

  • the use of solid-fuel wood heaters as the main source of heat in NSW homes from 13.7% in 2008 to 10.2% in 2014 ( ABS 2014 )
  • second-hand smoke as a contributor to poor indoor air quality in NSW households –93.1% of NSW households were smoke-free in 2018 compared with 79.4% in 2002 ( Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence 2018 ).

NSW Health’s indoor air pollution web page provides additional information.

Pressures

Pollutants

Pollution sources

Ozone and particles, especially fine particles (PM2.5) remain the pollutants of ongoing concern for NSW air quality due to their significant impacts on human health. National air quality standards continue to be exceeded for ozone and particle pollution at times and health effects are known to occur even at concentrations within national standards.

Sources of both primary particles (which are released directly into the air) and precursor pollutants for secondary particles (formed in the air) and ozone are therefore an ongoing focus in NSW.

For information on particle pollution and ozone and its precursors, see this topic’s Status and trends section.

Recent research findings

Sydney Air Quality Study

The Sydney Air Quality Study is a multi-year research program led by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), in collaboration with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and NSW Ministry of Health.

Results from the first phase of the study (2017–2019) produced new insights into how air pollution varies in time and space across the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR – Sydney, the Lower and Upper Hunter, Central Coast and the Illawarra) and what are the major sources of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) and ozone. These results were published in Air Quality Study for the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region ( DPIE 2020a ) and peer-reviewed papers in a special issue of the journal Atmosphere, Air Quality in New South Wales, Australia ( Chang et al 2019a Chang et al 2019b ; and  Duc et al. 2018 ).

Key findings from the study so far showed that for PM2.5:

  • human activities account for 40% of the population-weighted annual average of PM5 concentrations across the NSW GMR
  • major human sources of PM5 are wood heaters (31%), industry (26%), on-road motor vehicles (19%), power stations (17%) and non-road diesel and marine emissions (6%).

and for ozone:

  • motor vehicles and commercial-domestic sources are the most significant contributors to maximum ozone levels in south-west Sydney, followed by vegetation and power stations
  • emissions from vegetation, commercial-domestic sources and power generation play an important role in the formation of ozone in north-west Sydney.
Air quality and health impacts of bushfire smoke and dust storms

Bushfires and dust storms are major contributors to extreme pollution events in Sydney ( Johnston et al. 2011 ). The health burden associated with the 2019–20 bushfires in eastern Australia has been investigated using publicly available air quality monitoring data ( Borchers-Arriagada et al. 2020 ) and regional airshed modelling predictions ( Duc et al. 2021 ).

Research by Borchers-Arriagada et al. (2020)  found that bushfire smoke over the period 1 October 2019 – 10 February 2020 was responsible for 417 excess deaths in eastern Australia; 1,124 hospitalisations for cardiovascular problems and 2,027 for respiratory problems; and 1,305 presentations to emergency departments with asthma. Details on confidence (CI) intervals and limitations are detailed within the study.

Johnston et al. (2021)  made similar findings in an Australia wide study of the 2019-20 bushfires, finding 429 smoke related premature deaths, 3,230 hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory disorders and 1,523 emergency attendances for asthma across Australia.

Duc et al. (2021)  estimated there were 247 (CI: 89, 409) premature deaths in NSW, 437 (CI: 81, 984) hospitalisations for cardiovascular diseases and 1,535 (CI: 493, 2087) for respiratory diseases from 1 November 2019 to 8 January 2020.

NSW GMR air emissions inventory

The 2013 Air Emissions Inventory for the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region ( EPA 2019 ) found that human sources are the major contributors to nitrogen oxides (NOx – 88%) and sulfur dioxide (SO2 – 97%), while natural sources are responsible for 65% of carbon monoxide (CO), 51% of PM10 particles and 73% of PM2.5 and 60% of VOC emissions. Hazard reduction burns and bushfires were major contributors to natural emissions of CO, PM10 and PM2.5 in 2013.

Climate change

The relationship between climate change and air quality is complex and there is still limited knowledge about how climate change may impact regional air quality. An understanding of the future projections of meteorological variables (such as temperature, precipitation and cloud cover) and changes in the frequency and severity of wildfires and dust storms are as important to air quality projections as the projections of greenhouse gas and particulate emissions profiles.

While some types of emissions, such as wood smoke and NOx from vehicles, may be decreasing due to higher than average temperatures, chemical and temperature changes in the atmosphere may lead to increases in other key air pollutants by influencing the formation of ozone and secondary particles (PM2.5).

Warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels are associated with higher pollen production and mould growth, raising the levels of airborne allergens ( Katelaris & Beggs 2018 ). Changing weather patterns may also result in an increase in unusual thunderstorm activity that triggers asthma in some people ( ASCIA 2016 ; Asthma Australia undated ).

Research into the interactions between climate change and air quality is ongoing. Sources include Adapt NSW, Dean & Green 2018 Cope et al. 2008 ,; DECCW 2010 Jacob & Winner 2008 Lacressonnière et al. 2014 Pfister et al. 2014 ; and Walsh 2008 .

See also the Climate Change  and Greenhouse Gas Emissions  topics

Bushfires

Bushfires can create smoke pollution affecting populations over very large areas. Severe fire weather is projected to increase across NSW over the coming decades. The number of severe fire days varies significantly from year to year, but this is expected to lead to an overall increase in bushfires and days when particle levels are hazardous.

In the last two to three years, drought and the 2019–20 bushfire season have had a major impact, pushing particle levels across NSW far above the annual standard. Research by Borchers-Arriagada et al. (2020) , Johnston et al. (2021)  and Johnston et al. (2021)  has shown significant health impacts attributable from smoke from the 2019–20 Bushfires, including from premature deaths, hospitalisations for cardiovascular and respiratory problems and presentations to emergency departments with asthma.

Population

By 2041, the NSW population is projected to grow to 10.57 million people ( DPIE 2020c ).

Increased population densities raise the community’s exposure to air pollution with resulting public health impacts and costs, even where air pollution concentrations remain the same. This is particularly relevant for growth areas in sensitive parts of the Sydney airshed in western Sydney.

Population growth increases transport, household and economic activities and emissions and potentially air pollution concentrations. Population growth also increases the pressure to address significant sources of pollutants with impacts on urban and regional populations, such as domestic wood heaters and transport.

Higher urban densities along transport corridors have the potential to increase community exposure to traffic emissions. Careful assessment and management of potential pollution and odour issues is also needed when residential, infrastructure, industrial and agricultural development and activities are planned in close proximity to each other.

Residential development at the interface with natural bushland may increase population exposure to the effects of smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns. Older people, children and those with chronic health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution. This is of concern given the increasing ageing population in NSW. 

See also the Population  topic.

Transport

In the Sydney region, motor vehicles are a significant source of ozone precursor emissions (NOx and VOCs) and particle pollution.

The 2013 Air Emissions Inventory for the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region ( EPA 2019 ) showed that in the Sydney region, motor vehicles accounted for:

  • 55% of anthropogenic NOx emissions
  • 13% of VOCs
  • 13% of PM5 fine particle pollution.

While improved emission and fuel standards have seen a fall in vehicle emissions over the last 30 years, a projected increase in vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) suggests that, without further action, particle emissions will start to increase from the mid-2020s ( NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer 2018 ). Vehicle exhaust emissions are continuing to reduce but this is expected to be offset by an increase in non-exhaust vehicle emissions from road, brake and tyre wear.

In 2019, transport was responsible for an estimated 20.2% of greenhouse gas emissions in NSW ( DISER 2021 ).

Ships and diesel locomotives are other sources of particles and NOx that contribute to air pollution affecting some NSW regions and communities.

See also the Transport  topic.

Responses

Legislation, standards and policy

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act), the POEO (Clean Air) Regulation 2021 and POEO (General) Regulation 2021 set the framework for managing air pollution from major industry in NSW. These controls also help reduce localised emissions of air toxics and include provisions for managing emissions from commercial and domestic sources, such as wood smoke and open burning.

The National Clean Air Agreement enables governments to reduce air pollution and improve air quality through cooperative action with industry at national, state and local levels. Completed actions include:

  • strengthened national air quality reporting standards for particles
  • review and update of the national air quality reporting standards for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone
  • new emission standards for non-road petrol engines
  • tighter wood heater emissions and efficiency standards.

Legislative changes

POEO (Clean Air) Regulation 2021

The Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air Regulation) 2021 was remade in 2021. The regulation provides regulatory measures to reduce emissions from industrial, domestic and commercial activities, motor vehicles and storage of fuels and volatile organic liquids.

POEO (General) Regulation 2021

The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 was remade in 2021. The regulation establishes the licensing scheme for major industrial premises and economic incentives for licensed businesses and industry to reduce pollution, including emissions to air.

Wood smoke

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) administers wood smoke regulations in NSW and works with industry, other Australian jurisdictions and the Commonwealth to improve standards for heating appliances. Since 2019, all new wood heaters sold in NSW have been required to comply with tighter efficiency and emission standards. EPA audit programs help ensure wood heaters offered for sale meet these standards.

Open burning

The POEO (Clean Air) Regulation 2021 sets out provisions that allow councils to control the burning of vegetation and domestic waste in their local areas. The regulation was amended in 2021 to make it clearer to communities what controls on open burning apply where they live and help councils and residents prepare for bushfires during hazard reduction burning seasons. 

Tobacco smoke

The Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 bans smoking and the use of e-cigarettes in all enclosed and certain outdoor public areas. They are also banned in motor vehicles when children under 16 are present.

The NSW Tobacco Strategy 2012–2021 ( NSW Health 2019a ) provides a framework for all tobacco control policies and programs in NSW. The NSW Tobacco Strategy Work Plan 2019–2021 ( NSW Health 2019b ) supports the strategy’s ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of tobacco smoking.

In NSW, nine out of 10 adults now live in a smoke-free home.

Standards

For information on national ambient air quality standards under the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure, see the Status and trends section.

National review of vehicle and fuel emissions

The Commonwealth Government manages fuel quality and vehicle emission standards for new road vehicles, which are currently under review. The NSW Government’s 2021 submission on the draft Commonwealth Regulation Impact Statement Better Fuel for Cleaner Air called for the earliest adoption of Euro 6/VI standards for all light and heavy-duty diesel vehicles.

Small engines

The Commonwealth Product Emissions Standards Act 2017 sets national maximum emission limits for specified new products sold in Australia. Emissions-controlled products covered by the Act include new outdoor power equipment, such as gardening equipment and outboard motors.

Shipping

The Commonwealth regulates fuel used for all ships, including cruise ships, in Sydney Harbour and regional NSW ports. In December 2016, following NSW Government and community representations, the Australian Government introduced requirements for cruise ships to use low sulfur fuel (0.1% or less) while at berth in Sydney Harbour.

From January 2020, the International Maritime Organization reduced the upper limit of sulfur in ship fuel from 3.5% to 0.5% globally and this is now the minimum requirement for all shipping.

Policy

NSW Clean Air Strategy

The draft NSW Clean Air Strategy 2021–30 was released for community and stakeholder comment in March–April 2021. The proposed strategy presents a whole-of-government approach to achieve ongoing reductions in the adverse effects of air pollution on the people of NSW, while supporting liveable communities, healthy environments and the state’s economy.

The draft strategy builds on NSW’s existing air quality management framework and integrates with other relevant Government policies, such as the Net Zero Industry and Innovation Program, the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap ( DPIE 2020b ) and Future Transport 2056. It also takes into account recommendations from inquiries following the 2019–20 bushfire season and the NSW Government response to the Parliamentary inquiry into health impacts of poor air quality from bushfires and drought.

Actions in the draft strategy aim to address five key priorities:

  • Better preparedness for pollution events – improve information and how it is communicated to help reduce health impacts of air pollution on NSW communities, including impacts from bushfires, hazard reduction burns and dust storms.
  • Cleaner industry – drive improved management of air emissions by industry.
  • Cleaner transport, engines and fuels – further reduce air emissions and impacts from vehicles, fuels and non-road diesel sources.
  • Healthier households – support reducing emissions from household activities, prioritising wood heater emissions.
  • Better places – reduce impacts of air pollution on communities through better planning and design of places and buildings.

Strategy actions will improve the management of community exposure to poor air quality during extreme events and on a day-to-day basis, delivering immediate health gains. Longer term gains will be achieved by continuous improvement in reducing emissions across priority sectors and in planning and place design to protect communities from pollution sources. 

The strategy recognises that policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition to cleaner forms of electricity generation and improve efficiency in sectors such as transport and energy can also reduce air pollution.

Response to Bushfire Inquiries

The NSW Government has responded to the impacts of the 2019–20 bushfire season and the recommendations from subsequent inquiries into the bushfires and their impacts on air quality. NSW has adopted in-principle all recommendations of the independent NSW Bushfire Inquiry, which include a comprehensive system of air quality forecasting and alerts, further research into the health impacts of bushfire smoke and additional public education. The NSW Government has also released its response to the recommendations of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the health impacts of exposure to poor air quality from bushfires and drought.

NSW Government Resource Efficiency Policy

 The NSW Government Resource Efficiency Policy (GREP) ( OEH 2019 ) was introduced in 2014 and reviewed in 2018 to take into account implementation challenges, technology development and market trends. GREP efficiency targets apply to all state government sector agencies, while local government, state-owned corporations, public trading enterprises and public financial enterprises are encouraged to also adopt the policy’s approach.

GREP sets minimum emission standards for mobile non-road diesel plant and equipment, such as construction equipment, purchased by NSW Government agencies and requires agencies to:

  • collect information from construction project contractors on their equipment
  • include a weighting for lower-emission machines in their tender processes
  • use low volatility paints and surface coatings that comply with the Australian Paint Approval Scheme, where fit for purpose.
Climate change

Policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sectors such as transport and energy can also reduce air pollution. For example, NOx is both a greenhouse gas and a contributor to photochemical smog, so strategies to reduce the levels of this pollutant will both improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

See the responses sections in the Energy ConsumptionClimate ChangeGreenhouse Gas Emissions , Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020–2030  appendix and Transport  topics.

Programs

Monitoring NSW air quality

Monitoring air quality, conducting research and modelling regional airsheds provide a sound evidence base for developing and implementing air quality policies and programs. The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) monitors air quality in NSW and data is publicly reported. Full details on the NSW air quality monitoring network are available on the DPIE website. See also the Status and trends section above.

Informing the public

DPIE provides up-to-date air quality information, forecasts and alerts online, via SMS and email. This information allows communities to know about local air quality, engage in informed discussions on air quality issues and manage their exposure when pollutant levels are high.

Enhancing air quality data delivery services

DPIE is currently working on an air quality website and data delivery enhancement project. This will deliver a new air quality data management and reporting system that is modular and adaptable to changing needs and customer expectations. As part of the project, an air quality application programming interface (API) and a map viewer were launched in 2020 on the DPIE air quality website. The API allows web users to stream data for business and mobile applications, while the map viewer lets the public view air quality and meteorological data along with other information, such as the status of ongoing bushfires or hazard reduction burns.

Review of the air quality monitoring plan

The NSW Government continually reviews its air quality monitoring activity. The recently published NSW Air Quality Monitoring Plan 2021–2025 explains how the NSW government intends to monitor ambient air quality across metropolitan and regional areas, during the five-year period 2021–2025.

Controlling transport emissions

Petrol vapour and volatility

Key initiatives to reduce emissions and improve health and liveability include requiring petrol vapour recovery technology to capture VOC emissions at service stations across the Sydney, Wollongong, Central Coast and Newcastle areas.

It is estimated that vapour recovery controls will eliminate more than 5,000 tonnes of VOC emissions per year when fully implemented.

Another key achievement has been limiting the volatility of petrol supplied in Sydney from 15 November to 15 March each year to 62 kilopascals, with petrol importers and blenders required to test batch volatility and report to the EPA.

Electric vehicles

Under the NSW Electric Vehicle Strategy ( DPIE 2021 ), launched in June 2021, electric vehicles (EVs) are expected to make up more than 50% of new light vehicle sales by 2030–31. The Strategy also sets an objective for the vast majority of new light vehicle sales to be EVs by 2035.

Under the Strategy, stamp duty on EVs will be phased out and rebates will be available to make purchasing EVs more affordable. Investments in fast charging infrastructure are also being made to create a network charging stations across metropolitan Sydney and major highways in regional NSW.

The EV Program builds on the NSW Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Plan ( TfNSW 2019 ), which also includes initiatives to integrate NSW’s first fully electric bus trial into a regular route service, co-invest in EV chargers on major regional corridors and in commuter car parks, and invest in customer information.

Under the Electric Vehicle Strategy the NSW Government has set a target to electrify passenger vehicle fleet procurement by 2030, with an interim target of 50% EV procurement by 2026. This is a significant increase on the target set under the 2019 NSW Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Plan for 10% of new government passenger fleet cars to be hybrid or electric from 2020–21.

See also the Transport  and Climate Change  topics and the Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020–2030  appendix.

Controlling industrial emissions

The EPA reduces industrial emissions through licensing, regulation and working in partnership with industry stakeholders on strategies to improve air quality.

Air quality impact assessment

In 2017, the EPA updated its Approved Methods for the Modelling and Assessment of Air Pollutants in New South Wales (EPA 2016) to include particle assessment criteria consistent with the 2016 revisions to the AAQ NEPM standards.

Mining and transport of coal

Between 2012 and 2017, the EPA’s Dust Stop program helped reduce coal mine particulate emissions by about 22,000 tonnes per year (Figure 8.11). In 2016, Dust Stop required key coal mines to stabilise excessive areas of land exposed to wind erosion, reducing annual particulate emissions by a further 2,000 tonnes. The practices implemented through the Dust Stop program are now part of standard mining operations throughout NSW.

Since spring-summer 2018–19, follow-up compliance campaigns have been assessing how well coal mines are managing the dust from their operations. For example, throughout the spring and summer periods of 2019–20 and 2020–21, the EPA Bust the Dust compliance campaign has been targeting dust from coal mines in the Hunter Valley. The campaign includes the use of drones to help EPA officers better identify the source of dust plumes and observe their impacts on air quality.

Figure 8.11: Dust Stop program – Reduction in PM10 emissions (tonnes)

Source:
EPA Dust Stop program
Emissions from coal fired power stations

In 2018, the EPA reviewed the air emissions and licensing requirements for base load power stations in NSW. The review involved detailed analysis of large amounts of monitoring data and information. Inconsistencies in regulatory requirements for the base load power stations were identified together with opportunities for improvement.

In July 2020, the EPA issued variations to the licences of all five NSW coal-fired power stations. These changes strengthen monitoring and reporting requirements and tighten air emission limits.

Monitoring lead levels at Broken Hill

Sampling for the Broken Hill Environmental Lead Study Concluded in March 2020. This four-year study was commissioned by the Broken Hill Environmental Lead Program (BHELP) and the EPA in 2016 to inform remediation efforts underway as part of a program to address lead contamination and exposures. The study aimed to monitor airborne and deposited lead and assess contributions of current emissions from mining leases and non-mining areas. A one-day-in-six community sampling schedule continues at four locations to monitor against NEPM health goals.

Load-based licensing review

The EPA’s load-based licensing (LBL) scheme requires some environment protection licensees to pay part of their annual licence fees based on the load of certain air and water pollutants their activities release to the environment. By tying the fees payable to pollutant loads, the scheme provides an ongoing economic incentive for licensees to improve their environmental performance beyond the levels required by regulation or licence conditions alone. The EPA continues to progress a review of the LBL scheme, which aims to improve the scheme’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Finalisation of the LBL review has been delayed due to COVID-19 challenges, the complex concepts being considered in the review and a need to settle and implement a number of government policy settings (for example, those relating to energy, net zero and air quality). This delay will allow the EPA to ensure any LBL reforms align with and complement any upcoming NSW Government policy settings.

Controlling commercial and domestic emissions

Wood smoke program

The EPA supports councils across NSW in managing wood smoke through periodic wood smoke reduction programs and providing community educational materials for use by councils. Previous social research for the EPA (Databuild 2016) identified a lack of awareness of wood smoke impacts on health as the key barrier to changing people’s wood heater use.

In 2017, the EPA developed a range of educational materials for councils to raise public awareness about wood smoke impacts and the correct operation of wood heaters. The materials are now available in English and five community languages – Arabic, Cantonese, Hindi, Mandarin and Vietnamese –on the EPA website. 

The EPA also regulates the sale of wood heaters. All appliances must meet minimum emission and efficiency standards as set out in the POEO (Clean Air) Regulation 2021. Since 1 September 2019, all new wood heaters sold in NSW have been required to comply with tighter efficiency and emission standards under Australia/New Zealand Standards AS/NZS 4012 and AS/NZS 4013.

Managing indoor air quality

Building rating schemes

The National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) is a national rating system administered by DPIE on behalf of all states, territories and the Australian Government. NABERS provides tools to rate the environmental impact of commercial building operations (office buildings, shopping centres, hotels, data centres and hospitals).

The NABERS Indoor Environment (IE) certification scheme assesses the quality of the indoor environment and includes an assessment of the building’s capability to supply fresh air indoors and control the concentration of indoor pollutants, including particulate matter.

By May 2021, the NABERS indoor environment tool had been used to rate 2.25 million square metres of office space in NSW, equal to 23% of the total 9.8 million m2 in the state. A total of 290 NSW buildings had been certified with NABERS indoor environment ratings, out of 666 certified nationally.

Green Star certification, administered by the Green Building Council of Australia, also includes air quality measures for rating indoor environments. Where a building has completed a NABERS Indoor Environment rating, this contributes to the Green Star – Performance certification.

For more information about NABERS, see the Energy Consumption  topic.

Heating in schools:

NSW schools and school buildings built since 2012 are no longer fitted with unflued gas heaters. Existing unflued heaters are replaced with flued gas heaters when they reach the end of their serviceable life or a school requires a heating upgrade. Schools in colder areas are prioritised for heater replacement as it is less practical for those schools to leave windows open in winter for ventilation ( DoE 2016 ).

Air ventilation in schools:

Prior to the return to classrooms in October 2021, the NSW Department of Education has conducted a state-wide review of more than 2,200 public schools (including preschools, primary and high schools), windows, fans and ventilation systems in more than 150,000 spaces. Adequate air ventilation is vital for good indoor air quality. The audit confirms the majority of spaces in schools can be adequately ventilated through natural and mechanically assisted ventilation already in place ( DoE 2021 ).

The NSW Department of Education is purchasing a number of air purifiers for use during times when natural ventilation may be insufficient in teaching spaces – for example, due to bushfire smoke or poor air quality ( DoE 2021 ). 

Future opportunities

Emissions control

Current emission control measures being progressed under the National Clean Air Agreement include evaluating the potential for a national approach to manage non-road diesel engine emissions. The Commonwealth and NSW governments are co-leading this project. 

Cross-agency and community collaboration

The draft NSW Clean Air Strategy 2021–30 was developed following consultation across government agencies and released for community and stakeholder consultation in March-April 2021 to allow all stakeholders to have their say on priorities and proposed actions. Where investigations under the strategy lead to recommendations for separate new initiatives to improve air quality, these will also be subject to further stakeholder consultation.

References

Walsh S, 2008, Climate Change and Ozone Project: Stage 1 Project Report, Internal Environment Protection Authority Victoria report, Melbourne