Media release: Doctors call on environment ministers to adopt strict air pollution laws

14 December 2015

Doctors urge state and federal environment ministers not to cave in to pressure from the mining industry and support the adoption of strong national air pollution standards at Tuesday’s 15 December meeting.

Air pollution is a silent killer. It’s linked to 3000 Australian deaths a year- approximately twice the number of road fatalities.

Medical advocacy group Doctors for the Environment Australia is concerned  NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman’s position on air pollution standards appears to be closely aligned with the Minerals Council of Australia and may not support tough new measures needed to tackle air pollution.

Long-term exposure, even at very low levels, increases heart disease, asthma and is now recognised as a cause of lung cancer, just like cigarette smoking.

Those who are especially at risk are children, the elderly and those with pre-existing heart and lung diseases.

The costs to the health budget are also significant.  In Sydney alone, the costs have been calculated at about $4.5 billion annually.

Despite these figures, current laws do not adequately protect Australians from air pollution, and regulation is weak or non-existent.

DEA spokesperson Dr John Van Der Kallen says:  “The science is clear- there is no doubt as to the need for immediate action to adequately protect the health of the community from the harmful effects of air pollution.

“As concerned doctors we strongly urge Minister Speakman and Premier Baird to join with the ministers of the environment from around Australia and set legally binding air quality standards that will protect all Australians.”

The much-awaited meeting follows a number of community campaigns as well as government inquiries and reports spanning more than a decade.

DEA wants to see annual and daily standards for fine particulate of 8ug and 25ug per cubic metre and for coarse particulates of 20ug and 40ug per cubic metre. Establishing an annual limit for coarse particulates is especially important to prevent lung cancer in non smokers.

“We must stop playing political football with this issue and do something about the costs- both to health and also the health budget,” says Dr Van Der Kallen. “We know from overseas experience that reducing air pollution has significant health benefits.

“The US Environmental Protection Authority has studied the effects of the 1970 Clean Air Act and in 2011 concluded that for every dollar spent on improving air quality, about $30 was being saved. This is a terrific return by anyone’s estimate.”


Dr John Van Der Kallen, 0431 535 742

Dr Ben Ewald, 0422 378 042

About DEA

DEA is an independent health advocacy organisation of medical doctors raising awareness of the link between health and the environment

We are supported by a scientific advisory committee of:

Professor Stephen Boyden AM; Professor Peter Doherty AC, FRS, FAA; Professor Bob Douglas AO; Professor Dave Griggs; Professor Michael Kidd AM;  Professor David de Kretser AC; Professor Steve Leeder AO; Professor Ian Lowe AO; Professor Robyn McDermott; Professor Peter Newman; Sir Gustav Nossal, AC, CBE, FAA, FRS; Professor Hugh Possingham; Professor Lawrie Powell AC; Professor Fiona Stanley AC; Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM; Norman Swan.

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