Media Release: Health experts call for stronger national air pollution standards to save lives

Doctors are calling for stronger national air pollution standards to limit dangerous pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone in ambient air. Air pollution currently causes over 3000 premature and preventable deaths per year in Australia, as well as contributing to asthma, heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia is urging environment ministers to tighten air pollution standards to protect health, and to bring standards in line with international best practice. 
DEA has endorsed a joint position statement that includes The Climate and Health Alliance, Lung Foundation Australia, Lung Health Research Centre, Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Thoracic Society.

The statement comes as state and federal environment ministers prepare to review the National Environment Protection Measure (Ambient Air Quality) (NEPM) that is being adjusted for the first time in 21 years, since it was established in 1998. Submissions close on Wednesday 7 August.

The joint statement recommends:
  • Lowering the thresholds of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and ozone, and alter reporting metrics.
  • Expanding the network of NEPM compliance monitors to reflect particular risks from widespread source emissions and hotspots, such as traffic on major roadways.
  • Making air quality monitoring data publicly available through a coordinated national website, allowing access to real-time and historical data.
  • Including compliance obligations and enforcement mechanisms to air quality standards.
  •  Setting strong health-based standards now to protect health, with an exposure reduction framework in place for continual improvement even below the standards.
Spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia Dr Ben Ewald says, “The purpose of the NEPM is to minimise the risk of adverse health impacts from exposure to air pollution for all people, wherever they may live, yet the current limits on nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone in the air allow people to be exposed to levels of these toxic pollutants that can significantly impact their health.

“Exposure to these toxic pollutants at the limits set out in Australia’s current NEPM can lead to a range of serious health impacts including asthma, heart disease, and lung disease.

“Even at low concentrations, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone are impacting the health of Australians.

“The current limits for these pollutant gases are set well-above the World Health Organization recommendations.”

The costs of air pollution related deaths to the Australian public are estimated between $11-24 billion per year. Internationally, economic analysis of the US Clean Air Act showed a benefit of $31 for every dollar spend on implementation.

Coal-fired power stations and motor vehicles are the main sources of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide respectively, in Australia.

Ambient air quality standards for Australia are set by agreement between the various state and territory environment ministers, in a process known as the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM).

The NEPM standards are advisory and not enforceable under law. Individual states and territories use the Ambient Air Quality (AAQ) NEPM standards as a guide to form their own enforceable standards. 

Media contact

Carmela Ferraro, Media and Communications Coordinator, 0410 703 074


Joint statement
DEA Submission 

About DEA

DEA is an independent organisation of medical doctors protecting health through care of the environment

We are supported by a Scientific Advisory Committee of distinguished health experts: Prof Stephen Boyden AM, Prof Emeritus Chris Burrell AO, Prof Colin Butler, Prof Peter Doherty AC, Prof Michael Kidd AM, Prof David de Kretser AC, Prof Stephen Leeder AO, Prof Ian Lowe AO, Prof Robyn McDermott, Prof Lidia Morawska, Prof Peter Newman AO, Prof Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal AC, Prof Hugh Possingham, Prof Lawrie Powell AC, Prof Fiona Stanley AC, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, Dr Norman Swan 

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