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Air quality

Key Messages

  • Good air quality is important to maintain environmental health, including human health. Poor air quality can negatively impact people’s health, particularly children, older people, pregnant women and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. Poor air quality also can reduce visibility and damage our environment and ecosystems. Ground-level ozone damages agricultural crops, forests and plants, reducing their growth rates. Nitrogen oxides, and sulphur dioxide harm soil, lakes and rivers by making them more acidic. This can cause a loss of animal and plant life. Ammonia and nitrogen oxides also disrupt land and water ecosystems by introducing excessive amounts of nutrient nitrogen — a process known as eutrophication.

    Release of toxic chemicals into the air can have an impact on human health and the environment. These chemicals are usually only found in trace amounts across Queensland’s urban areas and are subjected to less intensive monitoring.

  • Air quality in Queensland has improved over the last 3 decades and remains relatively good, generally complying with national air quality standards for 5 of the 6 major air pollutants. This has been achieved despite the pressures from a growing population, an increase in motor vehicle use and industrial growth. Air quality improvements are a result of Queensland’s regulation of industry, stricter emission standards for motor vehicles and new emission reduction technology.

    Most measures of air quality (carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone concentrations) have reduced, with this reduction being particularly significant for carbon monoxide, lead and nitrogen dioxide.

    Particle pollution is the most significant air quality issue in Queensland with bushfires and dust storms identified as the main causes of exceedances of air quality standards.


Ozone concentrations

While hourly ozone levels in Townsville, Gladstone and South West Queensland have never exceeded the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure 1-hour average standard of 0.100ppm, in the past 14 years South East Queensland experienced exceedances on 2 days in 2011, and 1 day in 2015, 2018 and 2019. All exceedances are linked to extra emissions of photochemical smog-forming pollutants from major bushfires.

Visibility-reducing particles

While the past 2 decades have seen a downward trend in the number of days with reduced visibility (defined as a visual distance less than 20km) throughout Queensland, there were more than 10 reduced visibility days in all Queensland regions in 2000, 2001 and 2009 due to dry conditions and widespread bushfires. In addition, due to localised bushfires, South East Queensland recorded more days with reduced visibility in 2004, 2012 and 2019 as well, while Gladstone recorded more days with reduced visibility in 2011, 2015 and 2017 to 2019.

Particulate concentrations

Particle concentrations have exceeded National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure 24-hour average PM10 and PM2.5 standards of 50µg/m3 and 25µg/m3 respectively since monitoring began in 1986. PM10 and PM2.5 levels in all regions increased in 2018 and 2019 due to a higher incidence of dust storms and bushfires triggered by extremely dry conditions.

Carbon monoxide concentrations

Carbon monoxide levels have continued to decline over the past decade, with levels in the last 6 years less than 20% of the National Environmental Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure air quality standard of 9ppm.

Lead concentrations

Routine monitoring of lead in air is no longer undertaken in South East Queensland due to the low ambient concentrations following removal of lead in petrol. Lead monitoring results from Mount Isa and Townsville show that annual average lead concentrations are below the National Environmental Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure air quality standard of 0.50µg/m3.

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations

Levels of nitrogen dioxide across Queensland are consistently well below the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure annual and 1-hour average standards of 0.030ppm and 0.120ppm respectively.

Sulphur dioxide concentrations

Sulphur dioxide levels in all regions, except for Mount Isa, have met the National Environmental Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (NEPM) annual, 24-hour and 1-hour average standards of 0.020ppm, 0.080ppm and 0.200ppm respectively. Occasional 1-hour and 24-hour NEPM standard exceedances in Mount Isa are due to smelting operations.


Vehicle kilometres travelled

Total motor vehicle travel (cars, trucks, buses), expressed as total vehicle kilometres travelled, shows continued and sustained growth over time.

Number of registered vehicles

The total number of registered motor vehicles shows continued and sustained growth over time. While the number of electric and hybrid vehicles registered in Queensland has risen significantly in the last 5 years, particularly passenger vehicles, they represent only 1% of all cars and light commercial vehicles.

Vehicle emissions

Emissions from motor vehicles are a function of many factors, but most importantly total travel, fleet mix and emission control technology and driving behaviour.

Major air pollutants from industry

National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) results show an increase in several air pollutant emissions from industry in recent years, reflecting increased demand in commodities.


National Pollutant Inventory (NPI)

The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is a national program, implemented in Queensland under Chapter 6 of the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (The Reg). The Reg mirrors the requirements outlined in the NPI National Environmental Protection Measure (NPI NEPM), which are implemented cooperatively by the Australian and Queensland governments through a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The role of the states in the current MOU are summarised as:

  • collection and verification of emissions and transfer data
  • promotion of the database at a state level
  • provision of a representative to the NPI National Implementation Working Group
  • provision of aggregated emissions and transfer data estimation.

The program is aimed at the acquisition of facility-based emissions and transfer data.

The Reg imposes mandatory reporting obligations on facilities triggering specific reporting thresholds. The Reg provides power to the chief executive and delegates to carry out compliance measures should facilities with mandatory reporting requirements fail to meet their obligations.

Queensland Statewide Air Quality Monitoring Program

The statewide ambient air monitoring program provides baseline data to assess Queensland’s air quality against relevant air quality standards or objectives, meet state and Commonwealth legislative reporting obligations, evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies to improve air quality, and inform the public of the state of Queensland’s air environment.

The statewide ambient air quality monitoring network consists of about 30 monitoring stations located in major Queensland population centres to inform Queenslanders about the quality of ambient air within their communities.

Air Advice and Policy Support (AAPS)

The Air Advice and Policy Support (AAPS) program provides advice to the Department of Environment and Science and other government departments, in close cooperation with the Air Monitoring unit, to support evidence-based air quality management and policy development. This work provides direct input to national programs that require a well-considered formulation of a Queensland position (e.g. National Clean Air Agreement – NCAA) and air investigations. The core activities of the program are:

  • on-demand scientific support (investigations)
  • air emission inventories (SEQ, Gladstone)
  • software development and maintenance (COPERT Australia).
Air Quality Investigations program

The Air Quality Investigations program supports the statutory role of the Department of Environment and Science in investigating complaints, and managing emissions for licenced facilities and compliance and regulatory enforcement activities. The investigative air monitoring program provides the baseline data required to assess the veracity of community concerns and to determine if changes are required to existing industry emissions management.