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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
17 October 2002
Thank you very much Len, for presenting that report to me. It's tremendous to hear the great deal of interest and enthusiasm with which you have pursued this important topic over the years and much of what you have had to say I'm sure has confirmed the personal experiences that many of us have had when we have got into those new cars or opened that can of paint and wondered what the implications of the room smelling like that were or if we lay new carpet. We are all aware of these smells that permeate our lives and not everybody is aware of the fact that these smells may have quite toxic substances sometimes behind them, which can have very serious effect on people's health.
After hearing you talk, I now realise that I am very grateful to my wife for opening the back and the front door and the side door every morning so that by the time we go to breakfast the house has got a gale with fresh air blowing through it. But we won't complain about that in future because it is obviously a very positive thing that is happening in our family. But I want to thank the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies for hosting this occasion and for helping with the Clean Air Society of Australia and New Zealand to focus attention on this very important environmental issue of indoor air quality.
As Len has said there has been a great deal of focus in recent years on outdoor air quality and there is in fact a very close relationship between outdoor and indoor air quality. Those who live along major highways, undoubtedly suffered negative health effects when fuel standards were significantly lower, when we had leaded petrol, which we don't have today because of changes in the laws. They suffered very significantly from the poor quality of outdoor air.
Now that has improved and that has undoubtedly helped improve the quality of indoor air as well but there are a number of quite significant issues that continue to arise with indoor air quality. I hadn't heard until, Len has mentioned, that this figure of $12 billion in costs but I will look very closely at what goes into that figure because it is certainly a very substantial sum. But we do know that anything that adversely effects people's health has multi-billion dollar impacts on the system. There is no question of that and of course most Australians will only I think have probably focused on the issue of indoor air quality in relation to the issue of smoke from cigarettes and the smokers have now been pushed outside and that has had a very big effect in improving air quality in many of the indoor environments that Australians inhabit. Apart from that I think there is not a high public awareness of this issue. It's certainly something my portfolio has been seeking to promote public awareness of for some time. In fact, with some announcements today, over the last few years we will have invested in this portfolio over $1 million in research and studies to bring to people's attention the significance of indoor air quality and I have behind me some major publications in fact that the Department has put out in recent years including one that I issued myself earlier this year advising people of practical action that they can take in their homes to reduce the toxics in the air in the home and to improve air quality.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council, which comprises the state and federal ministers, sees air quality as being right at the top of its agenda. There is no doubt at all that that in part reflects Australians generally have put a great emphasis on air quality as an environmental issue. In fact, if you ask the states what is the top environmental issue for them they tend not to identify areas such as salinity or even water quality, but air pollution is right at the top of their list because that is the environmental issue which most directly impacts on peoples lives at every moment of their day. So it's not surprising that air quality is right up there at the top of the list.
The Department that I lead has certainly been working in partnership with the Clean Air Society and we would like to take up your invitation to work closely with you as we continue to develop an effective strategy to deal with indoor air quality. This is quite a complex issue I think that we face and I hear your suggestion that perhaps what we need is a new national body to focus attention on it. We do of course have bodies such as the Ministerial Council and the Department of Health, which has a specific mandate to address issues of environmental health. There isn't the slightest doubt that indoor air quality is one of those key issues. Our view is that we need to have much better quality data than we currently have to really specify the character of this problem and to identify where the major threats are coming from. We have already as I have said put significant resources into this issue. Today in recognition of the paper that you have handed to me I would like to make several further announcements about research that we would like to fund in this area and first of all I would like to announce an allocation of $175,000 to quantify the impacts of unflued gas heaters on indoor air quality and to consider possible management strategies for the ageing heaters that you referred to. Environment Australia would certainly welcome input from yourself and anyone else who would like to contribute to the development of the design of this particular project. We would like to work with everyone here in relation to the important issue of managing indoor air quality problems.
I would like to further announce a $30,000 project whose aim will be to firstly identify the significant sources of indoor air pollution in schools and then to produce a booklet explaining actions that schools can undertake to ensure good indoor air quality. I think is very important because we want our young people to have a healthy environment in schools and if you say there is a lot of balancing that needs to be done between our pursuit of energy efficiency in homes and schools and office buildings and recognising other environmental downsides or costs if you like of certain responses to energy efficiency and particularly if it leads to a reduction in ventilation in the building then that is something that has to be taken into account and I think that at the moment what we are attempting to do is to lay a holistic set of information before they are to take a decision so that we can take right decisions.
Another area which is still of quite some significance is woodsmoke in indoor and outdoor environments. It is more important in some areas of Australia than others. But there are areas which rely very heavily on wood heating indoors still and I would like to finally announce today a further $150,000 for a study assessing population exposure to woodsmoke in indoor and outdoor environments. I hope that all these pieces of research will be valuable in doing what you are seeking to do through this particular paper and that is to promote public awareness in this area and to provide decision makers both at the governmental level and at the non governmental level and community and people who want to make their own homes healthy with the information that they really need to take the decisions that they have got. I know that the Clean Air Society has pulled together a great deal of valuable information, we need to put this on a sound scientific basis through some additional studies and we would be very happy to work with the Clean Air Society in doing this in finding these projects with FASTS, in so far as FASTS has continuing interest in this particular area.
So thank you very much for the opportunity today to come along and receive this paper. I congratulate you on focusing attention on the issue which has received far too little public attention so far. I have no doubt that you will contribute to raising public awareness and on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, I'd like to say that we would be very happy to work with you in this very important project.
The suggestion of a national body to take control of the issue. Can you see the Government doing this? [Inaudible]
I don't think the problem at the moment is not that we don't have a national body in fact I don't know that I could really describe that as a long term problem. What we have is cooperation going on at the moment between the different levels of government and between the health and environment portfolios. We have N Health Council which is under the health portfolio at the moment which has a specific mandate in relation to environmental health, that that does fulfil the requirement of a health body, which is a national body and which is specifically charged with looking at issues of this kind. It seems to me that the principle requirement at the moment is to get [inaudible] sound scientific database that we need to effectively manage these issue. People want the assurance that they know what the problem is in their environment and they want to know what strategies are going to work to address these issues. We are at the stage at the moment where the problem is clearly identified where we know in broad terms what the issues are but there are a great variety of indoor environments that people live in and work in. We need to understand the nature of those different environments and I believe that with the mechanisms that we've got in place at the moment are appropriately delivering the kind of information that we want.
Do you think that we will eventually be targeting manufacturers to manufacture [inaudible]. Is there a role in that area?
Well there is a role in that area, because industry itself is now increasingly conscious of the environmental impacts of the products that it uses and the processes that it uses to produce those products. I've been impressed with the growing level of environmental consciousness in industry and when these issues are drawn to the attention of manufacturers you generally get a very positive response and an effort to address the issue. Now it may be that the issue is best addressed in the first instance by providing information about the safety issues and the appropriate usage and management of these products and it may lead to changes in the design of products as the issues and the health questions that arise are properly assessed by it.
I would see this as an ongoing issue in the discussions between the health and environment bodies with industry as we establish the database.
Break for Comment by Len Ferrari
I would just like to make a comment on that. I think in broad terms what Len says is right that everybody is entitled to have good air quality and if we have got national standards outdoors why don't we see about putting some national standards in place for indoor air quality. The issue at the moment is that in relation to outdoor air quality we already have had a very strong base of information which provides the foundation for setting those national standards. At the moment I don't believe we really have that sound scientific basis for determining National Standards for indoor air quality in a great variety of indoor environments that currently exists. That is not to say that at some time as we build up our understanding of indoor air quality issues that we shouldn't be considering moving to TAPE ENDS.