Air quality

Air quality standards

Ambient air quality standards

On 26 June 1998, the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) made Australia's first national ambient air quality standards as part of the National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air Quality (the 'Air NEPM').

The NEPC is a statutory body with law making powers established under the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 (Commonwealth) and corresponding legislation in the other jurisdictions. The members of NEPC are Ministers, not necessarily environment Ministers, representing the participating jurisdictions (i.e. Commonwealth, State or Territory Governments).

The Air NEPM sets national standards for the six key air pollutants to which most Australians are exposed: carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and particles. Under the Air NEPM, all Australians have the same level of air quality protection.

The standards, which are set out below, are legally binding on each level of Government, and must be met by the year 2008. The Air NEPM requires the jurisdictions to monitor air quality and this helps to identify potential air quality problems. All jurisdictions commenced formal reporting against the Air NEPM standards in 2002.

Pollutant Averaging period Maximum (ambient) concentration Goal within 10 years (maximum allowable exceedences)
Carbon monoxide 8 hours 9.0 ppm 1 day a year
Nitrogen dioxide 1 hour 0.12 ppm 1 day a year
1 year 0.03 ppm none
Photochemical oxidants (as ozone) 1 hour 0.10 ppm 1 day a year
4 hours 0.08 ppm 1 day a year
Sulfur dioxide 1 hour 0.20 ppm 1 day a year
1 day 0.08 ppm 1 day a year
1 year 0.02 ppm none
Lead 1 year 0.50 g/m3 none
Particles as PM10 1 day 50 g/m3 5 days a year

The PM2.5 Variation to the Air NEPM sets the following advisory reporting standards and goal for particles as PM2.5.

Pollutant Averaging period Maximum (ambient) concentration Goal
Particles as PM2.5 1 day
1 year
25 g/m3
8 g/m3
Goal is to gather sufficient data nationally to facilitate a review of the standard as part of the review of this Measure scheduled to commence in 2005.

For more information on the Air NEPM, see our factsheet on National Standards for Criteria Air Pollutants in Australia.

The full documentation of the Air NEPM and more information about the NEPC are available at .

Emission standards

Australia does not have national air quality emissions standards. Environment protection authorities in individual States and Territories set such standards.

You may wish to contact the local State or Territory environment agency for details on the current emission controls/licence conditions imposed on facilities in their jurisdiction.

In addition, the publication 'Air Quality Regulations and Odour Management in Australia and New Zealand' provides a summary of the standards and air pollution legislation existing in Australia. This publication can be purchased from the Clean Air Society of Australia and New Zealand at their website located at .

Air toxics

In December 2004, the National Environment Council (NEPC) made the National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure (known as the 'Air Toxics NEPM') which establishes 'monitoring investigation levels' for 5 air toxics - benzene; formaldehyde; benzo(a)pyrene as a marker for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons; toluene; and xylenes. Monitoring data gathered under the Air Toxics NEPM will inform future decisions on the management of these pollutants.

Crepuscular rays at Pyengana. Photo: Margaret Brown.