Report on NSW air quality reminder of pollution’s health impacts

Morgan Liotta

20/06/2019 3:33:47 PM

New South Wales’ declining air quality is likely contributing to poor health outcomes, a new report reveals.

NSW dust storm
Dust storms contributed to poor air quality in parts of NSW in 2018.

The NSW Government issued its Annual air quality statement 2018, showing high levels of toxic air pollutants across the state – and they are on the rise.
The report reveals that NSW exceeded the national standards for coarse particle pollution (PM10) and fine particles (PM2.5) more frequently and to higher levels and over more locations across the state than in 2017.
High levels of air pollutants are associated with respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma, and – in severe cases – developmental problems in children, and death. 
Setting standards and goals for air quality are essential for protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of air pollution, according to the NSW Government.
The report found that overall air quality in NSW remained ‘generally good’ during 2018, and levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide easily met national standards, with air quality levels varying across the state.
However, it also showed that levels of sulphur dioxide in the Hunter Valley and Central Coast regions of the state exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) standards 336 times over the past four years.
Both of these regions are home to coal mines, which are major sources of emissions and air pollution. In 2018, the Hunter Valley recorded its worst air quality due to increasing particle matter from the mines.
Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said it is ‘extremely troubling’ that particle pollution in NSW is continuing to rise.
‘Particle pollution is extremely hazardous, entering the lungs, blood stream and even the brain, leading to serious medical conditions and even death,’ she said.
There was also an increase in the number of days that reached hazardous pollution levels in 2018 compared to 2017. This was mainly due to record climate conditions – NSW had its warmest year on record for maximum mean temperatures, rainfall was 40% below average and the entire state drought-declared.
Dust storms and bushfires also contributed to air quality levels in 2018, with 25 days affected by dust storms (compared to three days in 2017), and 26 days affected by bushfires or hazard reduction burning (compared to 15 days in 2017).
Annual average PM10 levels for 2018 were recorded at 25 µg per cubic metre of air, with a daily average of 50 µg per cubic metre of air. The maximum daily PM10 level was 274.1 µg per cubic metre of air, recorded at Bathurst in December 2018, due to an extensive dust storm. 
Annual average PM2.5 levels were recorded at 8 µg per cubic metre of air, with a daily average of 25 µg per cubic metre of air. Almost half of NSW’s PM2.5 levels were above national standards in 2018.
Annual monitoring of air quality is important to provide accurate and up-to-date information to communities about the air they breathe, the NSW Government stated, determining if air quality is sufficient to protect public health, and enabling a platform for developing strategies to improve air quality where required.
Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos, founding Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Integrative Medicine network, is of the same mind. She believes measuring air quality is an important aspect of preventive health, and is an advocate for planning and building infrastructure around the environment and liveability of our communities.
She previously told newsGP that vehicle emissions are also of particular health concern, as they carry PM2.5 harmful to humans’ short-term and long-term health.
‘As we breathe them in they go deeper into the lungs and become absorbed into our lymphatic system and blood stream, and also the rest of the body, such as the tissues and organs, and cause other effects,’ Associate Professor Kotsirilos said.

‘We can’t see them, they’re very tiny particles … but they cause or are associated with increased mortality, premature death and even cardiac arrest.’

The NSW Government has committed to extending the air quality monitoring network, with additional funding to establish new monitoring stations across the state over 2018–19.

air pollution environment New South Wales particle pollution

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