Review of national ambient air quality standards

The National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) was established in 1998 under the National Environment Protection Act 1994 (Cwlth) (NEPC Act). It was designed to provide a nationally consistent framework for monitoring and reporting on six common ambient air pollutants. These were carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, photochemical oxidants (ozone), sulfur dioxide and particles (particulate matter or PM), the latter as PM10 (particles with diameter less than 10 micrometres – 10 µm). It was varied in 2003 to include smaller PM2.5 particles (less than 2.5 micrometres – 2.5 µm).

The AAQ NEPM sets national air quality standards and goals for each of these pollutants, which local jurisdictions monitor and report against. The AAQ NEPM aims to guide the making of policies that adequately protect human health and wellbeing.

An initial review of the AAQ NEPM involved the development of an issues scoping paper and subsequent discussion papers. The final review report (PDF 635KB) was released by the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) in 2011.

The AAQ NEPM particle standards were reviewed ahead of the other standards because of:

  • the potential for health benefit gains
  • current population exposure
  • levels of particles in the atmosphere
  • the range of cost-effective actions available to address the level of particles in the atmosphere.

On 15 December 2015, Australian environment ministers met and agreed to adopt reporting standards for annual average and 24-hour PM2.5 particle levels of 8 µg/m3 and 25 µg/m3, respectively. The ministers are aiming to move these standards to 7 µg/m3 and 20 µg/m3, respectively by 2025. Read an agreed statement (PDF 136KB; Department of the Environment and Energy) from this meeting.

An impact statement and supporting documents for the national review of particle standards were released in 2014. The documents and submissions are available on the NEPC website.

The NEPM was varied to include these changes and registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments on 3 February 2016.

Ministers also agreed to establish an annual average standard for PM10 particles of 25 µg/m3. Victoria has adopted a more stringent annual average PM10 standard of 20 µg/m3 in order to pursue continuous improvement in air quality in line with community and local government expectations. The new standard is consistent with the World Health Organization guidelines.

Having a PM10 annual standard of 20 µg/m3 is expected to protect the Victorian community from chronic health effects, especially respiratory conditions.

EPA will monitor and report against the new standards and this will inform the government’s future policy formulation and regulation. The PM10 standards will be reviewed nationally in 2018.

These changes have been incorporated into law in Victoria by updating the State Environment Protection Policy (Ambient Air Quality) [SEPP AAQ]

Victoria is leading work to review the AAQ NEPM ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide standards. The review will consider new evidence on the health effects of these air pollutants and is supported through funding from the Australian Government, with contributions from states and territories.

As part of the review an impact statement is being developed to determine the costs and benefits of strengthening national ambient air quality standards.

This page will continue to provide updates on this work as it progresses.

Further work

On 15 December 2015, environment ministers endorsed a National Clean Air Agreement. This will deliver actions to reduce air pollution and establish a process for jurisdictions to work cooperatively in addressing emerging air quality issues.

Page last updated on 1 Aug 2016