Air is essential to sustain life, but can be impacted by pollutants resulting from human (anthropogenic) activity such as motor vehicle use, commercial, industrial and manufacturing facilities, and from natural events such as bushfires and dust storms. Impacts from air pollutants can also adversely impact natural ecosystems and reduce amenity and aesthetic values through haze, smog, and dust. The effects may be local or global as recently seen with Australia’s bushfires impacting on air quality in New Zealand. Air borne pollutants contribute to serious health issues including respiratory problems such as coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and in severe cases, developmental problems in children and even death. The economic benefits from reducing air pollution includes savings in health expenditure and fewer sick days by employees.
Air pollutants also affect our natural assets:
- Fine particles affect the respiratory tracts of animals and high levels can have an adverse effect on priority taxa.
- Nitrogen deposition for air pollution has been shown in Europe and USA to have an adverse effect on native forests, grasslands, and waterways.
- Deposition of fluorides from air pollution can accumulate in vegetation and soils and cause both fluorosis in herbivores and decline in soil invertebrates.
- Sulphur oxide air pollution can lead to acid rain impacts on both soils and waterways.
Air pollutants may be transported by air movement over short or long distances. Vegetation plays an important role in removing wastes from our atmosphere, helping to reduce pollutants to acceptable levels. It also impedes the movement of airborne substances by providing barriers to dust and aerosols (including agricultural chemicals and industrial and transport emissions), enhances air mixing and mitigates noise.
Vegetation can indirectly improve air quality in urban areas through cooling effects and reducing the demand for energy to run air conditioning in buildings. Local authorities in Canberra have planted 400,000 trees with an estimated combined energy reduction, pollution mitigation, and carbon sequestration value of US$20-67 million during the period 2008-2012.
Headline Target: Air quality (A2)
By 2031, the levels of air pollutants in SEQ will be at or below the quality objectives in the appropriate Schedule of the Environmental Protection (Air) Policy 2008.
A 1 – Greenhouse gas emissions
By 2031, the region will make an equitable contribution to the national and regional targets for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
A 3, A 4 and A 5 – Thermal, noise and light pollution
By 2031, SEQ thermal pollution will be at or below 2003 levels.
By 2031, SEQ noise pollution will be at or below 1998 levels.
By 2031, SEQ light pollution will be at or below 1998 levels.
The 2016 NRM Plan Review found:
- An increasing trend for carbon monoxide and airborne particulates.
- A decreasing trend for oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, and fluorides.
- Light pollution was increasing (based on 1992-2012 change analysis) within fringing urban areas, along major highways and along the SEQ coastline.