ACT Air Quality Report 2020 released

Australian Greens

The ACT Air Quality Report 2020 reveals that the Black Summer bushfires had a significant impact on air quality in the ACT and that in winter wood heater smoke continues to be an environmental and health issue.

The report shows that in January smoke pollution peaked and ozone levels were higher than compared to other months of the year.

Ozone concentrations met the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measures (NEPM) standards 99% of days during 2020 while increased levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, caused by the bushfires, met the NEPM standards 99.5% of days.

Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti said bushfire smoke and dust storms continue to present a threat to air quality in the ACT, as climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires.

“We need to take action against climate change otherwise we will see more intense and frequent occurrences such as dust storms and bushfires and ultimately have poorer air quality in the ACT. As part of this response, the ACT Government is preparing a smoke and air quality strategy to improve air and health outcomes,” Minister Vassarotti said.

“I look forward to delivering the Air Quality Strategy to the Legislative Assembly by October 2021, prior to the start of the 2021-22 bushfire season. The strategy will incorporate several actions recommended by the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.”

These factors include:

  • air quality standards for outdoor workers
  • the extent and quality of indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring, data and public information
  • measures to protect people, especially vulnerable people, from smoke, including the ability of public and private facilities to provide shelter and refuge from smoke
  • domestic woodfire smoke.

Wood heater emissions exceeded the NEPM standards for 13 days between mid-May and early August 2020. This is an increase from the two days in 2019 and one day in 2018 which exceeded NEPM standards, likely due to more people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Wood burning smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and fine particles which can be harmful to the environment and the health of people, especially those with heart or lung diseases,” Minister Vassarotti said.

“To improve health and wellbeing outcomes of Canberrans and our environment, the ACT Government has implemented an integrated program to address wood smoke pollution.”

This includes:

  • up-to-date air quality reporting and related public health advice through ACT Health’s Air Quality Health Advice Portal
  • the regulation of the sale and supply of firewood
  • the regulation of wood heaters sold in the ACT to ensure they meet current Australian Standards for emissions and efficiency
  • the wood heater replacement program to replace old inefficient wood heaters with high efficiency alternatives
  • the annual ‘Burn Right Tonight’community education campaign which reminds ACT residents how to use wood heaters correctly to minimise air pollution
  • the prohibition of wood heaters in new development areas where planning studies show that they would adversely impact air quality. The ACT Government has taken this approach for the development of the Molonglo Valley (except Wright), and previously with the suburbs of Dunlop and East O’Malley.

The ACT Air Quality Report 2020 is available at: https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/s/article/air-pollution-tab-related-resources

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