Particulate concentrations

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Key finding

Particle concentrations have exceeded National Environmental Protection Measures (NEPM) Air Quality Standards since monitoring began in 1986. Exceedences of the PM10 standard show no clear trends while there is a decreasing trend in the exceedences of the PM2.5 standard.

Particle pollution is the most significant air quality issue in Queensland. Particles are emitted into the atmosphere from a variety of sources including motor vehicles and industrial activities. Climatic conditions and the contribution of particles from dust storms, smoke from bushfires, agricultural burning and hazard-reduction burning have the most significant impact on particle levels and the year-to-year variation. The particles generated can range in size from more than 50 micrometres (µm) in diameter to less than 1µm and can impact on health and amenity. Smaller particles—less than 10µm in diameter (PM10)—can have an effect on human health. Particles smaller than 2.5µm in diameter (PM2.5) are considered to have more significant health impacts due to their deeper penetration into the lungs.

Monitoring of PM10 is undertaken in all regions whereas PM2.5 is undertaken in South East Queensland (SEQ) and Gladstone only. While there has been no definite trend in the number of days of exceedences of the Air National Environmental Protection Measures (NEPM) standard for PM10 over the past decade, there has been a decreasing trend in the number of days of exceedences of the PM2.5 24-hourly average standard. A large number of exceedences occurred during 2009 and 2011 due to dust storms and bushfires. The high number of days (36) of exceedences of the Air NEPM standard for PM10 in Moranbah in 2012 was caused by a housing estate development around the monitoring station. Half of the exceedences occurring in SEQ in 2014 were due to dust from building construction works immediately adjacent to the Woolloongabba monitoring station. Mount Isa is situated in a low rainfall area where winds associated with the passage of low pressure troughs through the region can result in high levels of windblown dust. Windblown dust is usually responsible for the majority of exceedences of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM 24-hour PM10 standard. 2010 was a particularly wet year across Queensland which resulted in very few (only three in SEQ) exceedences.

In the past decade, exceedences of the NEPM annual average PM2.5 standard occurred only once in SEQ (2009) and once in Gladstone (2011). These exceedences were associated with dust storms and bushfires. Annual averages have remained fairly stable over the past decade with no definite trends. For the 2012-2015 period, the annual average PM2.5 standard has been less than 75% of the standard.

Higher temperatures predicted in the future as a result of climate change are likely to increase the occurrence of particle pollution with conditions leading to more prevalent dust storms and bushfires.

More information:

Indicator: Trends in number of exceedences of NEPM air quality standards for particulate concentrations, and annual concentrations

Trends in number of exceedences of National Environmental Protection Measures (NEPM) Air Quality Standards for particulate concentrations, and annual concentrations, by airshed for 2000-2014.

Download data from Queensland Government data