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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

19 January 2001

PRIMARY SCHOOLS IN STUDY OF AIR POLLUTANTS AND CHILDREN'S HEALTH


Up to 700 Melbourne primary school children are about to contribute to a ground-breaking study of how air pollutants affect children's respiratory health.

Announcing the project at Collingwood College on Melbourne's busy Hoddle Street today, Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill said it would help clarify the link between pollution and such common childhood diseases as asthma.

"The effect of air pollution on children's health is increasingly driving public policy on air quality and is a top priority for my portfolio," Senator Hill said.

"In Australia, we know that air pollution is associated with increased hospitalisation of children for respiratory conditions. For example, recent Victorian research shows that 15-20% of children experience asthma, and that up to 23% of hospital admissions for asthma may be explained by environmental factors.

"However we don't yet have enough data to confirm that children living or going to school near heavy traffic areas are any more at risk, and the relationship between health effects and air quality with varying indoor and outdoor air exposures remains largely unknown.

"This study will examine children's exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution in six primary schools, focussing on children in grades two to six."

The $237,000 study is funded under the Commonwealth's Air Toxics Program and the Natural Heritage Trust. It will be conducted over the next 18 months by a consortium led by the Royal Children's Hospital and the Environment Protection Authority,the Environment Protection Authority Victoria and including Monash University and the North Yarra Community Health Centre.

Starting in March, the project will look at the children's exposure to air pollution in areas with varied levels of traffic, and sample the air pollutants in both the classroom and the playground. At the same time, with parents' consent, it will survey the children's health, testing their lung capacity and other respiratory functions. Some children will be badged for personal exposure monitoring.

"The impetus for this project came from the community and I am certain it will have good parental support, as the results will give us a much clearer picture of how we can protect our children's health from both indoor and outdoor pollutants," Senator Hill said.

"It will also contribute to the development by all governments of a national approach to air pollution."

The pollutants to be surveyed include those commonly found in vehicle exhaust such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles, benzene and formaldehyde and others commonly found indoors such as nitrogen dioxide. Indoor air will be collected from schools and in a selected number of the children's homes.

Schools already involved in the project include Collingwood College, St Joseph's Primary School Collingwood and Richmond Primary School.

Senator Hill said the Commonwealth was working closely with all State and Territory Governments to tackle air pollution, with $20 million in funding under the Natural Heritage Trust and other programs.

"Governments have already set air quality standards for each of the major outdoor air pollutants, with a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) for Ambient Air Quality," he said.

"We are now focusing on developing a NEPM for air toxics and on a strategy for managing indoor air quality."

January 19 2001

Media Contact: Belinda Huppatz, Senator Hill's Office: 0419 258364

Commonwealth of Australia