Air pollution and its health impacts: the changing panorama

Tord E Kjellstrom, Anne Neller and Rod W Simpson
Med J Aust 2002; 177 (11): 604-608.


  • Urban air pollution levels are associated with increased mortality and cardiorespiratory morbidity.

  • These health effects occur even at exposure levels below those stipulated in current air-quality guidelines, and it is unclear whether a safe threshold exists.

  • Air pollution in Australia and New Zealand comes primarily from motor vehicle emissions, electricity generation from fossil fuels, heavy industry, and home heating using wood and coal.

  • In individual patients a direct link between symptoms and air pollution exposure may be difficult to establish and may not change their clinical management. However, avoiding exposure during periods of peak pollution may be beneficial.

  • Although there is some evidence that urban air pollution in Australia and New Zealand has been decreasing (through reduced car use, improved emission-control technology and use of more energy-efficient devices in the household and in industry), pollution levels are still unsatisfactory. Further reductions may prevent hundreds of cardiorespiratory hospital admissions and deaths each year.

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  • Tord E Kjellstrom1
  • Anne Neller2
  • Rod W Simpson3

  • 1 National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.
  • 2 Faculty of Science, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, QLD.


The funding for TEK's input into this article came from the Burnett Award to Professor A J McMichael, NCEPH, Australian National University.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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