Air toxics and indoor air quality in Australia

State of knowledge report
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4739 4

Part A: Air toxics (continued)

Australian management of air toxics

3.1 Introduction

The term 'ambient air' means the outside air to which people, plants and animals are exposed. It excludes 'indoor air', which is the air within an enclosed space, such as buildings, structures, or vehicles.

As previously noted, it has been common practice for environment agencies worldwide to divide atmospheric air pollutants into two distinct groups: the 'criteria pollutants' and 'air toxics'. In simple terms this distinction is based on the relative abundance of these pollutants in the urban environment. Management of the criteria pollutants typically includes the setting of ambient air quality standards. (see Section 1.2.4).

As noted in Section 1.1, for the purposes of this report, air toxics are defined as gaseous, aerosol or particulate pollutants that are present in the air in low concentrations with characteristics such as toxicity or persistence that make them a hazard to human, plant or animal life.

Unlike the criteria pollutants, there are no national standards that apply to the level of air toxic pollutants in ambient air. However, the States and Territories manage emissions of air toxics and criteria pollutants in a similar manner.

Atmospheric emissions of air toxics are controlled to some extent under the relevant legislation at a State and Territory level. Depending on the type of pollution source (whether point or diffuse) different legislation may apply. The control measures for air toxics will vary substantially across Australia as each State and Territory has developed its own approach to managing these pollutants within its respective jurisdiction (see Section 3.4).

3.2 National Pollutant Inventory (NPI)

The NPI, which was the first National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) to be made, is Australia's national database of pollutant emissions. Information on the NPI can be found on the internet.

The NPI has been designed to provide the community, industry and government with information on the types and amounts of certain chemicals being emitted to the environment. It identifies 90 chemicals (Table 3.1), the majority of which are considered to be air toxics. The information contained in Table 3.1 can be accessed via the internet. However, the indoor environment was not explicitly considered during the preparation of the NPI list of pollutants, so some indoor air toxics may not appear on this list.

Emission data for the first reporting year, July 1998–June 1999, are currently available on the internet. The NPI report comprises data reported by facilities against an initial list of 36 substances, referred to by NPI as 'Table 1'. The full list of 90 substances is referred to as 'Table 2'. The NPI requires industry to report on its emissions, and State and Territory governments to estimate diffuse emissions (eg vehicle exhaust emissions). The first reporting year for Table 2 pollutants will be July 2001–June 2002.

The NPI will:

Environment Australia has recently (1999) published the National Pollutant Inventory – Contextual Information. This document provides information relating to the physical and chemical properties, sources of release, health effects and environment effects of the 90 NPI pollutants. It was a basic reference in developing the report. The full text of the document may be accessed through the internet.

The substances covered by the NPI were adopted on the basis of advice from the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) to the NPI. In the initial selection process, TAP developed and applied a method for assigning component scores to substances and combining these scores to generate total risk scores that were then used to rank the substances.

Initially, the TAP drew up a comprehensive list of approximately 400 substances. It then used a system of scoring and ranking substances that was sufficiently sensitive to reflect particular contributions to total risk, but not so sensitive as to place undue weight on any one factor. Details of the process followed by the TAP are available on the internet.

More information on the NPI can be found in Section 1.4.1.

Table 3.1: The 90 substances to be reported under the National Pollutant Inventory National Environment Protection Measure
Substance (CASR No.)a Substance (CASR No.)a
Acetic acid {ethanoic acid} (64-19-7) Acetaldehyde (75-07-0)
Acetonitrile (75-05-8) Acetoneb (67-64-1)
Acrylic acid (79-10-7) Acrylamide (79-06-1)
Ammonia (total) (NA) Acrylonitrile {2-propenenitrile} (107-13-1)
Antimony and compounds (7440-36-0) Aniline {benzenamine} (62-53-3)
Benzeneb (71-43-2) Arsenic and compoundsb (7440-38-2)
Beryllium and compounds (7440-41-7) Benzene hexachloro- {HCB} (608-73-1)
Boron and compounds (7440-42-8) Biphenyl {1,1-biphenyl} (92-52-4)
Cadmium and compoundsb (7440-43-9) 1,3-butadiene {vinyl ethylene}b (106-99-0)
Carbon monoxideb (630-08-0) Carbon disulfide (75-15-0)
Chlorine dioxide (10049-04-4) Chlorine (7782-50-5)
Chloroform {trichloromethane} (67-66-3) Chloroethane {ethyl chloride} (75-00-3)
Chromium (III) compounds (7440-47-3) Chlorophenols (di, tri, tetra) (NA)
Cobalt and compoundsb (7440-48-4) Chromium (VI) compoundsb (7440-47-3)
Cumene {1-methylethylbenzene} (98-82-8) Copper and compounds (7440-50-8)
Cyclohexane (110-82-7) Cyanide (inorganic) compoundsb (NA)
Dibutyl phthalate (84-74-2) 1,2-Dibromoethaneb (106-93-4)
Dichloromethaneb (75-09-2) 1,2-Dichloroethane (107-06-2)
Ethanol (64-17-5) Di-(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate {DEHP} (117-81-7)
2-Ethoxyethanol acetateb (111-15-9) 2-Ethoxyethanolb (110-80-5)
Ethyl butyl ketone (106-35-4) Ethyl acetate (141-78-6)
Ethylene glycol {1,2-ethanediol}b (107-21-1) Ethylbenzene (100-41-4)
Fluoride compoundsb (NA) Ethylene oxide (72-21-8)
Glutaraldehydeb (111-30-8) Formaldehyde {methyl aldehyde} (50-00-0)
Hydrochloric acid (7647-01-0) n-Hexane (110-54-3)
Lead and compoundsb (7439-92-1) Hydrogen sulfide (7783-06-4)
Manganese and compounds (7439-96-5) Magnesium oxide fume (1309-48-4)
Methanolb (67-56-1) Mercury and compoundsb (7439-97-6)
2-Methoxyethanol acetate (110-49-6) 2-Methoxyethanol (109-86-4)
Methyl isobutyl ketonea (108-10-1) Methyl ethyl ketoneb (78-93-3)
4,4'-Methylenebis[2-chloroaniline] (101-14-4) Methyl methacrylateb (80-62-6)
Nickel and compounds (7440-02-0) Methylenebis(phenylisocyanate) (101-68-8)
Nickel subsulfideb (12035-72-2) Nickel carbonylb (13463-39-3)
Organotin compounds (NA) Nitric acid (7697-37-2)
Particulate matter ≤ 10 µ m {PM10}b (NA) Oxides of nitrogenb (NA)
Phosphoric acid (7664-38-2) Phenol (108-95-2)
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbonsb (NA) Polychlorinated dioxins and furans (NA)
Styrene {ethenylbenzene} (100-42-5) Selenium and compounds (7782-49-2)
Sulfuric acidb (7664-93-9) Sulfur dioxideb (7446-09-5)
Tetrachloroethyleneb (127-18-4) 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane (630-20-6)c
Toluene-2,4-diisocyanateb (584-84-9) Toluene {methylbenzene}b (108-88-3)
Total phosphorusb (NA) Total nitrogenb (NA)
1,1,2-Trichloroethane (79-00-5) Total volatile organic compounds (NA)
Vinyl chloride monomer (75-01-4) Trichoroethyleneb (79-01-6)
Zinc and compounds (7440-66-6) Xylenes (individual or mixed isomers)b (1330-20-7)

a Figures in brackets indicate the Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number.
b Indicates the 36 substances listed under 'Table 1' of the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) list; the full list of 90 substances comprise 'Table 2'.
c The review of the NPI will consider changing this to 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane (79-34-5).
{} = synonym;
NA = not applicable

3.3 Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure

This section summarises the national management framework for criteria pollutants rather than air toxics. This information is given here to provide a context for management of air toxics and as an example of national management approaches to air quality.

The Ambient Air Quality NEPM commenced on 8 July 1998. It aims to ensure that the quality of ambient air allows for the adequate protection of human health and wellbeing. This has entailed establishment of ambient air quality standards, and monitoring and reporting protocols for the criteria pollutants: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, photochemical oxidants (as ozone), sulfur dioxide, lead, and particles (as PM10). The goal of the NEPM is to achieve these standards within 10 years of commencement of the NEPM (ie by July 2008).

The NEPC Act restricts the NEPM to ambient air quality; therefore it deals only with air quality outside buildings. The NEPC confined the scope of this first Ambient Air Quality NEPM to considering the impact on human health of the major pollutants within the general mass of air in the major Australian airsheds. In setting air quality standards, the NEPC took into account the latest international research on health-related air pollution, information on the current state of Australia's major airsheds and social and economic impacts.

The resulting standards are the first step in establishing a consistent approach to managing air quality around Australia, with the ultimate aim of providing equivalent protection to all Australians wherever they live. Compliance with the standards is assessed by measurements made at designated performance monitoring stations or by equivalent methods approved by the NEPC. Annual reports on compliance are made publicly available.

The national standards in the NEPM replace State standards, guidelines, goals or objectives - some formally adopted, some informally used for reference – that were in use for many years. By having a common set of air quality standards and consistent methods of measuring compliance, Australians are better able to assess the quality of the air they breathe and to compare their air quality with that in other regions. Governments also benefit by being in a better position to assess the relative importance of air quality in setting priorities, and industry is better informed when making investment decisions. Programs to improve and protect air quality remain the responsibility of each individual State and Territory and the Commonwealth. However, a number of national programs, such as standards for motor vehicle emissions, continue to be conducted at the national level.

3.3.1 NEPM development process

The NEPM development process involved the establishment of a Project Team, chaired by Dr Brian Robinson, Chairman EPA Victoria, with team members drawn from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, the Commonwealth and the NHMRC. The Project Team and a non-government organisation (NGO) advisory group were established to advise the NEPC Committee during the development of the NEPM. Several consultancies were commissioned to provide informed input to the Project Team's deliberations and technical review panels of relevant experts were formed to peer review the consultant reports. A project manager from the NEPC Service Corporation was appointed to manage the development of the NEPM.

The NEPC Committee released a Discussion Paper setting out proposals for the NEPM in July 1997, for comment over a two-month period. The written submissions received (over 100) were analysed and considered in preparing a draft NEPM and Impact Statement.

A draft NEPM and Impact Statement were released for three months public comment in November 1997. More than 50 meetings with the public and stakeholder groups were held. To enhance the opportunity for stakeholders to discuss this NEPM, a Key Stakeholders Consultative Forum was formed with representatives from industry, the environment movement and government. An independent facilitator was appointed to identify outstanding issues and recommend mechanisms for resolving them.

Following the public consultation phase, all of the 172 formal submissions received and comments from formal and informal meetings were analysed and a set of responses was prepared for consideration by NEPC. The draft NEPM was revised on the basis of the outcomes of the consultation program and externally reviewed by an international air quality specialist. An eminent environmental economist reviewed the Impact Statement.

On 26 June 1998, Australia's Environment Ministers, meeting as the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC), unanimously agreed to make the NEPM for Ambient Air Quality. This followed rigorous consideration of the final draft NEPM and accompanying documentation in terms of the requirements of the NEPC Act by State and Territory governments. The NEPM was made in accordance with the requirements of the Commonwealth National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 and the equivalent provisions in the corresponding acts of the participating jurisdictions. The NEPM commenced on 8 July 1998.

The ambient air quality standards established by the NEPM are shown in Table 3.2.

Table 3.2: NEPM ambient air quality standards and goals
Pollutant Averaging period Maximum concentration Goal within 10 years maximum allowable exceedences (days per year)
Carbon monoxide 8 hours 9.0 ppm 1
Nitrogen dioxide 1 hour
1 year
0.12 ppm
0.03 ppm
Photochemical oxidants (as ozone) 1 hour
4 hours
0.10 ppm
0.08 ppm
Sulfur dioxide 1 hour
1 day
1 year
0.20 ppm
0.08 ppm
0.02 ppm
Lead 1 year 0.50 µg/m³ None
Particles as PM10 1 day 50 µg/m³ 5

PM10 = particulate matter of less than 10 micrometres in diameter;
ppm = parts per million

3.3.2 Application of the NEPM

All governments are required to report annually on progress towards meeting the goal of the NEPM. To comply with the NEPM, governments need to use the standards and the monitoring protocol to assess air quality against the goal of the NEPM. No other requirement is placed upon governments. Most State governments already had active air quality management programs that continued after the establishment of the NEPM.

The annual compliance reports from each jurisdiction to the NEPC are tabled in each of the parliaments and are made public.

3.3.3 Monitoring

Achievement of the 10-year goal is to be assessed by the approach specified in the Monitoring Protocol. Differences in the way monitoring stations are located, the way samples are collected and the analytical methods used can produce quite different results, so there is a need for a standardised approach to monitoring and reporting data. However, there are practical issues such as finding suitable locations for monitoring stations and servicing them. Furthermore, analytical methods and instrumentation are constantly improving and it would not be beneficial to exclude such advances from the NEPM. The NEPC has therefore determined not to be prescriptive in the Protocol but to put in place a mechanism that will achieve the dual objectives of consistency in assessing compliance and comparability of data between airsheds. Jurisdictions have three years from the making of the NEPM to establish monitoring procedures and commence assessment and reporting in accordance with the requirements established in the NEPM Protocol.

3.3.4 Peer Review Committee

A Peer Review Committee (PRC) has been established to assist in addressing technical issues relating to the NEPM's Protocol and its implementation and advise on jurisdictional monitoring plans. Jurisdictions are required to provide details of their NEPM monitoring plans prior to implementation, and these plans will be assessed for compliance against the Protocol by the PRC. The Committee was established in October 1998 with two nominees from industry, two from the environmental movement, one from each jurisdiction and an Executive Officer from the NEPC Service Corporation. Dr Mike Manton, Bureau of Meteorology, was appointed chair. The full membership of the PRC can be obtained from the NEPC website or by contacting NEPC at the address below. The PRC reports to the NEPC.

3.3.5 Supporting actions

The Ambient Air Quality NEPM is the first step in developing a more consistent approach to air quality management in Australia, so that Australians can enjoy equivalent protection from the adverse health impacts of air pollution.

To facilitate this objective, the following actions will be taken:

3.3.6 Further information

Copies of the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality, the Final Impact Statement and the Summary/Response Document on the Draft NEPM and Impact Statement are available from:

NEPC Service Corporation Level 5, 81 Flinders Street Adelaide SA 5000 Ph: (08) 8419 1200 Fax: (08) 8224 0912 Email:

3.4 Ambient Air Toxics National Environment Protection Measure

In February 2001, the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) resolved to establish a working group to scope a National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Toxics (Ambient Air Toxics NEPM). NEPC determined that a phased approach to the development of an Ambient Air Toxics NEPM would allow immediate progress on the most important priority pollutants for which ambient air quality data are available.

The Commonwealth's Living Cities – Air Toxics Program developed a list of 28 priority air toxics (see Chapter 5), which were used as the starting point for selecting pollutants for the proposed NEPM. NEPC tasked the Air Toxics Working Group to further refine the priority list. The criteria used for selection of air toxics for inclusion in the NEPM were that:

Using the above criteria, the Air Toxics Working Group identified five pollutants that were recommended for consideration in the initial stage of the Ambient Air Toxics NEPM, namely:

At the same time a second tier of substances were identified. These substances met all of the selection criteria with the exception of there being sufficient monitoring data to allow further consideration (additional information regarding the occurrence of these substances in ambient air and the likelihood of exposure to them is needed).

The second tier substances are:

On 29 June 2001, the NEPC resolved to develop an Ambient Air Toxics NEPM. This NEPM will focus on the five pollutants: benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), toluene, and xylenes. The Council also decided that a process for gathering appropriate monitoring data for second tier substances be examined in conjunction with the development of the NEPM.

It is anticipated that a draft Ambient Air Toxics NEPM will be developed by December 2002. The decision to develop the Ambient Air Toxics NEPM triggered a statutory process that supports the development of a Draft NEPM and Impact Statement. This process incorporates a number of opportunities for stakeholders to provide input to NEPC on the development of the Ambient Air Toxics NEPM.

The timelines and milestones for the development of this NEPM are outlined below:

A number of public consultation meetings will be held during the NEPM development process. Details of the consultation process and copies of papers developed in support of the Ambient Air Toxics NEPM may be obtained by contacting the NEPC Service Corporation see Section 3.3.6 for contact details.

3.5 Jurisdictional frameworks

3.5.1 Victoria

Several Victorian Government agencies and programs contribute to protecting Victoria's urban air quality. However, the framework for protecting urban air quality is to be found in the Environment Protection Act 1970. The key legislative framework for Victoria's environment protection system established in this act is outlined below.

Environment Protection Act

The Environment Protection Act provides the legal framework for the protection of the Victorian environment, including the protection of the air environment. The act emphasises the prevention of discharges to the environment rather than the clean up or disposal of pollutants. It provides for a range of mechanisms that EPA Victoria can use to ensure that air quality in Victoria is protected. EPA uses these mechanisms to encourage a cooperative approach to environment protection. The act provides for the establishment of State Environment Protection Policies (SEPPs) and Industrial Waste Management Policies (IWMPs). These statutory instruments provide the policy framework for the protection of the Victorian environment.

State Environment Protection Policies (SEPPs)

SEPPs describe the beneficial uses of the environment which must be protected. For example, the SEPP (Ambient Air Quality) (AAQ) and SEPP (Air Quality Management) (AQM) list life, health and wellbeing of humans as beneficial uses to be protected. SEPPs also outline the environmental objectives and specify environmental indicators that are used in monitoring whether the objectives are being met.

SEPPs also include an attainment program that identifies the type of actions needed to ensure that the desired environmental objectives are achieved and, therefore, that the beneficial uses are protected. Importantly the attainment program is not usually prescriptive in describing how these objectives should be met. Instead the SEPPs are designed to provide maximum flexibility so that creative ways can be found to meet SEPP objectives and preserve beneficial uses of the environment.

To ensure that the beneficial uses described in the policy are protected, environmental objectives are set (as design ground level concentrations) for air toxics in the SEPP (Air Quality Management). Objectives are set for Class 1, 2 and 3 indicators that are to be met at the maximum point of impact of a plume from a chimney stack. Class 1 indicators are the traditional criteria pollutants. Class 3 indicators are highly toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic or highly persistent substances requiring particularly stringent emission controls. A Class 2 indicator is generally source specific and is not a Class 1 or Class 3 indicator. The distinction between Class 2 and Class 3 indicators is made so as to enable the appropriate level of control according to the seriousness of the possible adverse effects. The SEPP (Air Quality Management) is currently under review.

Industrial Waste Management Policies

Industrial Waste Management Policies (IWMPs) complement SEPPs and are concerned with the environmentally sound management of the generation, storage, treatment, transport, and handling of industrial waste. In particular, IWMPs emphasise the importance for industry to investigate and implement means of minimising the production of wastes, including discharges to the air environment.

Other statutory mechanisms

SEPPs and IWMPs set out the policy framework for the protection of Victoria's environment. The Act also provides a range of statutory mechanisms that can be used to ensure the aims set out in SEPPs and IWMPs. They include:

Approach to managing air emissions in Victoria

Since 1973, companies in Victoria with the potential to be significant polluters have been subject to restrictions set out in licences. These licences restrict emissions according to criteria specified in SEPPs and in accordance with good control practice. Control over emissions to the air from chimney stacks has been achieved by setting maximum discharge limits. This has led to a focus on treatment systems to reduce pollutants after they have already been generated in the factory. At the time it was introduced, this 'end-of-pipe' approach (as it is known) to controlling emissions from industry dominated in Victoria and other parts of the world.

In 1985, EPA introduced works approvals. The works approval process obliges certain types of industrial premises identified in regulations to obtain EPA approval prior to commencing specified works or construction to ensure they adopt adequate pollution abatement technology and practices. The works approval process also provides a mechanism for EPA to work with planning authorities to avoid conflicting land uses being established too close to each other. A licence is still required for discharges to the environment.

Cleaner production

The concept of cleaner production illustrates clearly that sound business practice and environmental performance are inextricably linked. Businesses that wish to survive and grow within a community that values its clean environment need to incorporate continuous environmental improvement into all their activities. Significantly, companies that have pursued cleaner production practices have often found these practices yield financial as well as environmental benefits.

The adoption of cleaner production principles to avoid waste generation at source was put onto a statutory basis in Victoria in 1990 with the creation of the Industrial Waste Management Policy (Waste Minimisation). This statutory policy requires all companies applying for a works approval, or obtaining or amending a licence, to prepare a waste management plan. The plan must identify what the company will do to minimise industrial waste (including emissions to air) through the application of cleaner production techniques and commonly available technology (or, in the case of certain priority wastes, best available technology).

Since 1995, the adoption of cleaner production by small to medium-sized enterprises has been promoted through the Cleaner Production Partnership Program, initiated by EPA Victoria with the support of the Australian Chamber of Manufactures. The program provides financial and other assistance (such as the placement of experienced managers) to facilitate the introduction of cleaner production technology, preparation of waste management plans and environmental management systems.

Best Practice Environmental Management and Regulation

Cleaner production is now clearly seen as an expression of best practice environmental management (BPEM) in industry. BPEM involves adopting a management philosophy and complementary systems and practices that lead to a level of environmental performance equal to the best achieved by other enterprises in the same field of operation. BPEM exhibits such features as a pro-active approach to dealing with issues, openness in dealing with the community and rigorous appraisal and auditing of performance.

BPEM in industry must be complemented by best practice environmental regulation (BPER) – that is, an ongoing improvement in the mix of regulatory tools to produce the best environmental outcome, consistent with the community's social, economic and environmental goals. BPER is flexible enough to encourage responsibility, innovation and initiative by industry in addressing its environmental obligations. Examples of BPER, as it is currently practised in Victoria, include environment improvement plans (EIPs) and accredited licences. An EIP is a demonstration by a company of its commitment to improve the quality of the local environment. Designed to complement a company's own environmental management system, EIPs establish environmental objectives for premises in accordance with relevant policies and standards, and include a commitment to continuous improvement in its operations. The objectives are set in consultation with, and are regularly reviewed by, the local community. This establishes within the community a greater level of trust of the environmental credentials of industry operating in its midst.

Introduced in 1994, the accredited licensee scheme is designed to recognise good performance by industry. Companies that have a good track record in their environmental performance and that have an environment management system, an environmental audit program and an EIP can apply to have a simpler, performance-based licence, a more streamlined approach to works approval and a 25% reduction in their licence fees. Accredited licences provide industry with the flexibility necessary to innovate and develop cost-effective approaches to its environmental imperatives. A number of Best Practice Environmental Management Guidelines for industries with the potential to be significant contributors to air pollution have been, or are being, prepared to complement these statutory initiatives.

There are many general examples of how changes to practices and technology in an industry have resulted in improved air quality outcomes. For example, reductions in volatile organic compounds escaping to the atmosphere have resulted from the mandatory use of submerged vapour loading and recovery at petrol stations. Similar improvements have also been seen in the dry-cleaning industry and flexographic and gravure printing industry.

There are also many specific examples of how the application of cleaner production, BPEM and BPER have produced better outcomes for Melbourne's air. The Altona Chemical Complex is one such example. In the early 1990s, seven companies from the Altona Chemical Complex voluntarily agreed to halve the amount of volatile organic compounds emitted to the air over a five-year period.

Controls on air emissions from industry are well established in Victoria. They aim to achieve a balance between a regulatory safety net and a cooperative, performance-based approach that encourages innovative solutions to potential pollution problems. The current emphasis is on monitoring and refining these initiatives and extending their application.

Although many large companies have good environmental management practices in place, the great challenge is to assist and encourage small to medium-sized enterprises to adopt cleaner production and other improved practices.

Motor vehicle emissions

Control of emissions from motor vehicles is achieved through the development of Australian Design Rules (ADR's) at a national level. Transport and land-use planning is another important mechanism to reduce the impact of motor vehicle emissions on air quality. Airborne lead levels will continue to decrease as older cars are eliminated from the vehicle fleet. The phasing out of leaded petrol will marginally accelerate this trend.

3.5.2 New South Wales

Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) commenced operation on 1 July 1999. Accordingly, the Clean Air Act of 1961 and other environmental acts ceased operating on this date. The new legislation focuses on pollution prevention and cleaner production rather than on the previous media-specific approach which resulted in an emphasis on 'end of pipe' controls.

Amongst other reforms, the POEO Act provides for a system of licence fees based on the load of pollutants discharged by an activity. The load-based licensing scheme adopts the 'polluter pays' concept in order to reduce pollution at the least cost to both the community and industry. The EPA is currently finalising specific proposals on load-based licensing. The NSW load-based licensing scheme will provide financial incentives, through licence fees, to reduce mass emissions.

Prior to the POEO Act commencing, the Regulations under the Clean Air Act were remade (effective from 1 August 1997) as follows:

Upon commencement of the POEO Act and the subsequent repeal of the Clean Air Act, these regulations were taken up as POEO Act regulations. Some amendments were made at the time to bring them into line with the concepts in the new act.

ACTION for AIR plan

Following public consultation on the air quality management green papers, the NSW Government put in place an Action for Air plan in March 1998. This is a 25-year plan covering the most pressing problems of photochemical smog, nitrogen dioxide and fine particle pollution in the Greater Metropolitan Region of Sydney, the Illawarra and the lower Hunter.

The plan supports the Government's overall air quality agenda and tackles the most significant and growing air quality issue: the increasing use of motor vehicles in the urban area. However, it also recognises that every action counts in tackling air pollution and includes actions that cover travel demand (land use and transport planning integration) and the reduction of emissions from motor vehicles as well as industry and commercial sources and everyday household activities.

Reducing industrial air pollution

Point source emissions in NSW are controlled by setting absolute concentration limits on discharges. The limits are not to be exceeded. In addition to the absolute limits, licensed emissions may also have concentration limits. The limits specified in licences may be lower than the absolute limits. The NSW EPA has also negotiated a Pollution Reduction Program with licensees, which requires pollution reduction within a certain timeframe. The level of reduction and the timeframe over which this occurs is negotiated and agreed between EPA and the licensee.

A number of initiatives that assist in reducing emissions of photochemical smog precursors from industry in NSW are outlined below:

In addition to these initiatives, the NSW Government is also negotiating with industry in relation to:

In assessing proposals involving air toxics emissions from industrial premises, NSW EPA utilises the design ground level concentrations specified in Victoria's SEPP (Air Quality Management). Risk assessments have been conducted for some proposals and the need to conduct a risk assessment is assessed on a case-by-case basis

3.5.3 Western Australia


The primary legislation for managing air pollution in Western Australia is the Environmental Protection Act 1986. The act is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and is presently in the process of being amended. A brief outline of the structure of the Act follows:

Part III Environmental protection policies

This part allows for flexible, statutory policies that may form an underlying framework for the protection of a specified part of the environment. A statewide air environmental protection policy (EPP) for WA is currently under development to implement the NEPM standards for air quality.

Part IV Environmental impact assessment

An independent body, the Environmental Protection Authority, has powers to require various levels of assessment for proposals that may have a significant environmental impact.

Part V Control of pollution

Premises that may cause pollution may be 'prescribed', following which works approvals and licences are required for the construction, modification and operation of such premises. Pollution abatement notices or directions may be issued to control pollution from any premises. Other provisions contain head powers in relation to controlling pollution from vehicles and vessels.

Part VI and VII Enforcement and appeals

Various enforcement and appeals provisions exist in respect of the provisions mentioned earlier. The Western Australian Government is committed to the development and implementation of an air quality management plan for Perth. This process has been initiated through a Parliamentary Select Committee that was established in May 1997.

Licensing procedures have recently been changed to incorporate discharge-based licence fees, audited self-management and inducements for best practice which provide greater encouragement for industries to reduce discharges (Government Gazette, 13 September 1996: 4545).

The DEP has dispersion models for photochemical smog formation in the Perth airshed, and for point sources including those in coastal locations. These can be used in a number of ways such as ensuring that new developments do not cause ambient standards to be exceeded and assessing the effectiveness of options for emissions reductions.

The Department of Transport has developed and published a Metropolitan Transport Strategy which has the objective of reducing motor vehicle trips in favour of less polluting forms of transport (Department of Transport 1995). The EPA is assessing the long-term air quality implications of this strategy. A Travelsmart educational campaign is under way to raise awareness and understanding of the urban transport choices available, and to investigate what motivates people in making these choices. Regulations have been implemented that control vapours from service stations and bulk storage tanks (Government Gazette, 16 May 1995: 1844). The DEP has also participated in a project trialing the use of LPG vehicles in the government fleet to investigate environmental and economic benefits.

The DEP will be proposing to EPA that it develop local air quality guidelines for air toxics through a risk assessment based approach.

3.5.4 South Australia


The Environment Protection Act 1993 (EP Act) took effect from May 1995 replacing the Clean Air Act 1984 and its subordinate legislation, as well as five other acts which dealt with aspects of environment protection in South Australia. The current act establishes the Environment Protection Authority, an independent statutory body whose responsibilities include administration of the Act; contribution to NEPM; preparation of draft Environment Protection Policies; encouragement, development and implementation of best environmental management practices; and the pursuit of environmentally sustainable development. It deals primarily with stationary sources as the Road Traffic Act provides for control of motor vehicles, including compliance with ADRs and maintenance of pollution controls on in-service vehicles.

Examples of existing policies under the EP Act are the Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy, Environment Protection (Burning) Policy, Environment Protection (Industrial Noise) Policy and Environment Protection (Waste Management) Policy. The Air Quality Policy prescribes emission limits for certain classes of pollutants and imposes other requirements to minimise discharge of air pollutants. The policy is focused on point source emissions. The burning policy, which is administered by local government, regulates, and in some cases prohibits, burning on domestic, industrial and commercial premises.

The Act provides a number of instruments that may be used to effect environment protection in addition to introduction of policies. The objects of the Act emphasise prevention and minimisation of pollution and waste rather than 'end-of-pipe' controls and clean-up after a problem has occurred. The use of Environmental Improvement Programs (EP Act, section 44) and Environmental Performance Agreements (EP Act, section 59) may be developed to implement progressive improvements in conjunction with an organisation's business plan. Achievement of 'performance beyond compliance' and a commitment to continuous improvement is encouraged.

Major activities of environmental significance require a licence that replaces the multiple environment-related licences required before 1995. Licence fees are related to impact on air quality in a simplistic manner whereas the fees associated with discharge into the marine environment are derived from the volume and characteristics of the discharge itself. The fee system is currently under review to investigate the benefits and disadvantages of directly relating licence fees (or part of them) to the environmental impact of the activities. Any proposed scheme must also account for the fact that the EPA is currently self-funded through the Environment Protection Fund and does not draw upon the State's consolidated revenue to fund its operations. It exemplifies commitment to the 'polluter pays' principle.

Urban lead emissions have been reduced through participation in a national program to encourage the use of unleaded petrol where possible, and a phase-down of the content of lead in leaded petrol. Due to constraints posed by different refinery configurations, the latter was achieved by negotiated refinery-specific targets and timetables. In September 1996, Mobil Refineries Australia achieved the nationally agreed target of 0.2 g/litre.

Port Pirie is the site of the world's largest pyrometallurgical lead smelter. A specific program to reduce the exposure of the public to lead to acceptable levels has been introduced. The company is currently undertaking its third 10-year environmental improvement plan since the introduction of clean air legislation in South Australia. State and local governments and the company are also involved in an extensive Lead Implementation Program funded largely by the State Government through the South Australian Health Commission. This program has addressed the multiplicity of factors contributing to elevated lead levels in children's blood in Port Pirie.

The formation of photochemical smog has been addressed primarily through implementation of controls on new motor vehicles, and restrictions on hydrocarbon emissions from major industrial sources via licence conditions or works approval conditions.

3.5.5 Queensland

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 is the primary legislation for the management of the environment in Queensland. This legislation was framed to accommodate the principles of ecologically sustainable development. It provides a framework for the holistic management of the environmental impacts of activities and emphasises environmental stewardship.

The legislation covers the following main areas:

When taking decisions under the Act, the administering authority is required to consider a number of standard criteria. These include:

Best practice environmental management is considered to be management of an activity to achieve an ongoing minimisation of the activity's environmental harm through cost-effective measures, assessed against current national and international practices.

Management of activities

Under the Environmental Protection Act, the administering authority should take applicable Environmental Protection Policies and other 'standard criteria' into consideration when making decisions on environmental authorities, environmental management programs and environmental protection orders. This applies to both environmentally relevant activities (ERAs) and other activities.

The Environmental Protection (Air) Policy 1997 identifies environmental values to be enhanced or protected; specifies air quality indicators and goals to protect environmental values; and provides a framework for making consistent and fair decisions about managing the air environment and involving the community in achieving air quality goals.

The Queensland EPA has air quality indicators and goals for 12 air toxics, and these values are used as benchmarks for the evaluation of local air quality. The values are based on guidelines on ambient air quality from NHMRC1, WHO and other international bodies. Air quality goals are the maximum levels for the air quality indicators and are to be achieved progressively by the application of the Air Policy.

3.5.6 Tasmania

Current legislation to manage air quality

The main legislation relevant to air quality management in Tasmania is the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 and associated subordinate legislation. The act establishes functions and powers to prevent and remediate environmental harm, which is defined as any adverse effect on the environment (of whatever extent or duration). This clearly encompasses air pollution, and the Act provides a modern range of legislative tools that can be applied to air quality management. These include provision for the assessment and ongoing regulation of those activities that are likely to have the greatest potential for significant point source emissions to air. Conditions may be attached to the operation of such activities via permits or environment protection notices. Relevant subordinate legislation is summarised below. These regulations have been carried over from the Environment Protection Act 1993.

An Air Quality Management Strategy for Tasmania is being developed. The strategy requires the development of one or more new policy instruments, such as a State policy or a new regulation. A discussion paper on air quality management and policy development in Tasmania has recently been released for public consultation. It is proposed to formally adopt the EPA Victoria design ground level concentrations into policy in Tasmania.

3.5.7 Australian Capital Territory


The Environment Protection Act 1997 and regulations commenced on 1 June 1998, replacing the existing Air Pollution Act 1984 and regulations made under that act.

The new legislation enables a more integrated approach to environmental management, with the emphasis to be shifted from 'end of pipe' controls to pollution prevention and cleaner production principles. It establishes EPPs. A draft Air EPP was released for public comment in May 1998.

With the absence of major industry in the Australian Capital Territory, the main focus is on control of the criteria pollutants rather than air toxics.

3.5.8 Northern Territory

One of the primary goals of the Strategy for Waste Management and Pollution Control in the Northern Territory (1995) was to support and implement nationally agreed waste management and pollution control programs. The development of a strategy for the management of air quality was one of the many actions adopted to achieve this goal. The Waste Minimisation and Pollution Control Act provides for environment protection objectives (EPOs) to be made on a broad range of issues, including air quality. The act also provides control mechanisms such as licensing and approval requirements for certain activities and facilities.

EPOs may contain ambient environmental goals and standards, guidelines, waste emission criteria, waste reduction targets, uses of the environment to be protected, or criteria or indicators to be used for assessing environmental quality. At present no local air quality objectives or design ground level concentrations for air toxics are used in the Northern Territory due to the generally high air quality.

3.6 Risk assessment

3.6.1 Introduction

Increasingly, risk assessment is being used to inform policy makers in Australia and overseas on the potential effects of air pollution on human health and is guiding the development of air quality standards. Risk assessment is a systematic approach to characterising the nature and magnitude of the human health risks associated with environmental hazards, where hazard is the potential for harm and assessment of risk comprises an estimate of the likelihood of adverse effects occurring. The evaluation of the human health risks of air pollution requires information on exposure levels to various air pollutants, the number of people exposed (including sensitive groups) and knowledge of the quantitative relationship between exposure and health effects. The availability of appropriate air pollution data is critical to any risk assessment. For the criteria air pollutants, air monitoring data is routinely collected by State environment agencies and quite extensive databases exist. For air toxics, the existing data are neither as consistent nor as extensive.

In assessing the risks to human health from air pollution, no single approach will be applicable to all pollutants. The approach taken will be specific for each pollutant. It will depend on how the dose-response data have been obtained, whether or not the pollutant has an identified threshold for adverse effects and whether the health effects are related to a biological marker (eg lead and blood lead levels).

In the development of air quality standards in the United States, different approaches are taken for each pollutant. The approach taken by the WHO also differs with each pollutant. For example, air quality guidelines for NO2 and sulfur dioxide are developed from a threshold or no observable adverse effect level (NOAEL), while an assessment of the health risk from particles is left up to individual countries using dose-response relationships recommended by the WHO. This approach requires an assessment of 'acceptable levels of risk' and the decision on what is acceptable varies from country to country. Potential risks from carcinogenic air pollutants are assessed using unit risk factors and again an assessment of 'acceptable risk'. For carcinogenic air pollutants, various jurisdictions have defined levels of acceptable risk. This is less clearly defined for noncarcinogenic pollutants.

3.6.2 Stages of risk assessment

A risk assessment framework is generally comprised of four stages: hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment and risk characterisation. These stages are outlined below.

Hazard identification

Hazard identification involves determining the type(s) of adverse health effects that may be caused by the pollutant and how quickly problems might be experienced. This stage involves extensive review of available toxicological and epidemiological data, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the information being reviewed.

Identification of the population at risk is another step in the hazard identification. In general terms, the population at risk is that part of the population that is exposed to enhanced concentrations of air pollution (WHO 1999). Each population has sensitive groups or subpopulations who are at a higher risk of developing health effects following exposure to air pollutants. These sensitive groups include people with existing disease, the elderly and children. Other groups that have been identified to be at higher risk are outdoor workers and athletes, as these groups are subject to greater exposure to air pollutants.

Dose-response assessment

Dose response assessment involves an evaluation of toxicity and/or epidemiological data to determine the incidence of adverse effects occurring at different exposure levels. For carcinogens, the risk assessment usually requires extrapolation of dose-response relationships from animal studies or from occupational data where workers have been exposed to high concentrations of the chemical in question. This extrapolation introduces a considerable amount of uncertainty in the quantified risk. Much of the health effects information for criteria air pollutants has been derived from either population-based epidemiological studies or controlled human exposure data.

Exposure assessment

Exposure assessment determines the frequency, extent and duration of exposure in the past, present and future through identification of air pollution levels, exposed populations, sensitive subgroups and potential exposure pathways. The exposure assessment process is the most critical part of any risk assessment. Approaches to estimating the exposure to air pollution can be simple, for example, averaging the air quality data obtained from ambient air monitoring stations. More complex approaches include analysis of time-activity patterns for the population, personal exposure assessments (including indoor air quality) and ambient air quality data to obtain an accurate assessment of the exposure of a population to particular pollutants. The approaches taken can vary with the pollutant, the health outcome being assessed and the type of exposure data used.

Risk characterisation

Risk characterisation details the nature and potential human health effects for the exposure conditions specified in the assessment. This stage brings together knowledge about health impacts, dose response and exposure to calculate how many people are likely to be affected by specified levels of the identified pollutants.

A risk assessment may be either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative risk assessment is widely used in the assessment of carcinogenic risk and involves a mathematical estimation of the risk associated with exposure to a carcinogenic compound. There is considerable uncertainty in all stages of a risk assessment and this needs to be clearly described and limitations well documented.

3.6.3 Risk assessment in Australia

Risk assessment taskforce

As part of the future actions in the Ambient Air Quality NEPM, a risk assessment taskforce was set up to evaluate the role of risk assessment in the setting of air quality standards and the feasibility of using such an approach in Australia. The taskforce has prepared a report for NEPC that includes a review of available risk assessment methodologies used for setting air quality standards. This report was released by NEPC in December 2000.

EnHealth Council risk assessment guidelines

The enHealth Council (Environmental Health Council) has released draft risk assessment guidelines for Australia. This document provides a basis for a consistent approach to risk assessment in Australia. Guidelines have been developed for several media including air. The report is currently undergoing public consultation prior to finalisation.

A more detailed discussion of risk assessment approaches in Australia will be provided after finalisation of the work of the risk assessment taskforce and the enHealth Council.

National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme

NICNAS assesses the risks of new and selected priority industrial chemicals, including releases to the environment. NICNAS ensures that its risk assessment methods are kept up to date with international best practice, for example, through membership of the International Program on Chemical Safety Steering Committee on Harmonisation of Risk Assessment. NICNAS participates in the EnHealth Council work described above. A description of the NICNAS risk assessment approach is provided in Appendix A.

3.7 OECD review of Australian performance

The OECD has recently published (1998) a report on Australian air management in its Environmental Performance Reviews series. The following text reports the OECD's findings as reported in the 'Conclusions and Recommendations' chapter of the report.

Overall Australian cities do not have the acute air pollution problems found in a number of major cities in OECD countries and air quality in Australia is generally good. Urban air quality has improved over the past ten years as a result of both air pollution management (characterised by voluntary approaches and the case-by-case method of licensing stationary sources) and structural changes such as the increased use of natural gas. The introduction of three way catalytic converters in new vehicles in 1986 helped reduce emissions of NOx, VOCs and carbon monoxide. Recent reductions in airborne emissions of lead represent another achievement for Australia's air management policy, and one that can be considered exemplary in terms of cooperation among different levels of government, industry and the public. SO2 concentrations in major urban air sheds are well below levels of concern: power stations are generally far from urban areas and the sulfur content of Australian coal is low. Efforts are being made in several cities to integrate air management considerations in transport and land use planning. Nevertheless, surveys indicate that Australians' major environmental concern is air pollution and public expectations for air quality management are high. A priority is to ensure that the improvements of the past ten years are not offset by increased pollution pressures from industrial, agricultural, energy and transport activities. Substantial breaches of SO2 guidelines have occurred near some industrial and mining sites. Agriculture is responsible for large shares of carbon monoxide, NOx , carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Total and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are increasing. Urban areas, where 70 percent of the population is concentrated, experience episodes of high pollution by carbon monoxide, photochemical smog and particles. Further measures to reduce NOx , VOC and particulate emissions should be considered in the near future. Concerning new and in-use vehicles and fuel quality, a range of essentially regulatory measures applied in other OECD countries could make a cost-effective contribution to reducing emissions of these pollutants, which play a major role in urban air quality, particularly in areas of rapid growth such as southeast Queensland, Perth and western Sydney. The lack of a national approach to the adoption of ambient air quality guidelines has resulted in inconsistencies among States and Territories, and progress in setting national ambient air quality standards has been slow. The current air quality monitoring programme covers six capital cities and major industrial centres, but about 8 million people live outside monitored areas. Where air quality and emission data exist, they are dispersed among different industries and government agencies. As a result, Australia lacks a national database on air quality and emissions, which is essential for better definition and evaluation of air management strategies. Initiatives already in place, such as the National Pollutant Inventory and the call in the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment for a national approach to data collection and handling, could help rectify this situation, though neither initiative has yet been fully implemented. It is recommended that consideration be given to the following proposals:

Source: Environmental Performance Reviews - Australia (OECD 1998: 25–26).


1 On 19 March 2002, the National Health and Medical Research Council rescinded its publication "Ambient Air Quality Goals and Interim National Indoor Air Quality Goals". The Council has made this publication available on its Internet Archives site as a service to the public for historical and research purposes only.

The publication is available at: 

The Internet Archives site also contains the following statement made by the National Health and Medical Research Council:

Rescinded publications are publications that no longer represent the Council's position on the matters contained therein. This means that the Council no longer endorses, supports or approves these rescinded publications.


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