Governments dither on urgent air pollution standards

Australia’s conservation councils have called on the state, territory and commonwealth environment ministers to get serious about Australia’s air quality after an expected agreement on new air pollution standards failed to materialize yesterday.  

Ministers representing all governments met this week to consider proposals to implement strong standards through the National Environmental Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure, in particular controls on highly hazardous small-particle pollution.

However, it is understood the meeting concluded with no decision made.  

“Despite having deliberated for almost a year and received thousands of submissions supporting stricter standards, our governments have failed to provide the leadership that is required to address this serious public health issue,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.  

“Air pollution kills more Australians each year than car crashes, yet our governments have been dithering on the delivery of a strong, national standards and a National Plan for Clean Air for more than a decade.  

 “About 3000 Australians will die this year from exposure to air pollution while our governments continue to delay the action that is urgently required. Every year governments fail to act, more people will die.”  

Conservation Council of WA Director Piers Verstegen said: “Australia’s existing standards are inadequate and out of date. There is no safe threshold for particulate pollution exposure, yet there are no consequences for industries or facilities that exceed national particle pollution standards.  

“The existing advisory standards do not give communities adequate protection. These need to be enforced by state and territory regulators in all communities. Governments squandered an opportunity this week to address a major health risk faced by the citizens they serve.”  

COAG in 2011 identified air quality as Priority Area of National Significance and agreed to develop a National Plan for Clean Air by 2014, but action keeps being delayed.

The nation’s conservation councils are calling on the states, territories and commonwealth to adopt strong air quality compliance standards, including annual and 24-hour standards for dangerous particle pollution (PM2.5 and PM10s).  

“Further delays are simply unacceptable - we need immediate action,” Environment Victoria CEO Mark Wakeham said.

“Australia’s primary source of particle emissions is coal mines, with coal terminals and coal-fired power stations also significant contributors. The air pollution health burden is being felt disproportionately by communities in coal-affected communities, including those in the Latrobe and Hunter valleys. People in these regions are desperate for their governments to act.”