Air pollution in parts of NSW is so bad that it is equivalent to smoking a cigarette a day, according to a group of doctors who have called on the state government to take immediate action.
Twenty-four doctors have written to Health Minister Jillian Skinner and the Environment Minister Mark Speakman, warning that the latest pollution monitoring in Newcastle showed that three out of six sites revealed air pollution above the accepted advisory standard.
The doctors are concerned that the unacceptably high levels are having an impact on residents health, particularly children.
The doctors wrote an open letter to the NSW ministers after seeing the first year’s result from the EPA’s new air quality monitors in Newcastle that showed three out of six sites had fine particulate matter (PM2.5) above the advisory standard of 8.0 ug/m3.
The monitors showed the average reading for Carrington was 8.2, Stockton 9.0 and central Newcastle 8.5 ug/m3.
“This concentration of particulates has the same mortality impact as smoking a cigarette each day for every child as well as adult in town; it is therefore a big problem,” said Newcastle GP and member of Doctors for
“We are doing our best to look after patients with heart and lung disease but the air quality in suburbs adjacent to industry is a drag on their health.”
State and federal environment ministers met in July to discuss air quality and agreed in principle to adopt tighter standards over the long term. However they delayed that adoption until at least the end of the year.
Dr Ewald said that “it’s unacceptable that after having non-enforceable advisory standards on fine particulates for 12 years, a one-year period of public consultation, and strong advice from the government’s experts, the Council of Australian Governments meeting in mid July still could not implement new standards and put the decision off ’til December”.
“The government has a duty of care to protect public health and must tackle the problem of air quality as a priority.”
A spokeswoman for NSW Health said the development of air quality targets is a national process.
“In NSW the lead agency is the EPA. NSW Health is not a regulatory agency for air quality, but works closely with EPA on air quality issues, ” she said.
A spokesman for the Minister for the Environment Mark Speakman said there are as yet no new standards for PM emissions, but the NSW government was leading the national push in this regard.
He said that ministers also agreed to finalise their consideration of the national standards by 31 December 2015.
Dr Ewald said the doctors group wants action now. He said people with chronic lung disease and are being affected and long-term exposure to pollution could lead to impaired lung growth in children.
The story was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 September 2015.