Principles for setting air quality guidelines to protect human health in Australia

Graeme R Zosky, Stephen Vander Hoorn, Michael J Abramson, Sophie Dwyer, Donna Green, Jane Heyworth, Bin B Jalaludin, Jennifer McCrindle-Fuchs, Rachel Tham and Guy B Marks
Med J Aust 2021; 214 (6): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50964
Published online: 8 March 2021

The current mechanism for setting air quality thresholds in Australia does not adequately protect community health

The current air quality framework to mitigate against the health effects of exposure to air pollution within Australia relies on national environmental protection standards — set out under the National Environmental Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (the ambient air quality NEPM) — and the jurisdictional requirements for monitoring and reporting exceedances.1,2 The ambient air quality NEPM sets reportable limits for key criteria air pollutants.1 Criteria air pollutants are those that are legislated internationally as measures of air quality and include particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and lead1 (Box). Air toxics are non‐criteria air pollutants that are considered to pose a hazard to human health.7 Air toxics are legislated under a separate NEPM which has the goal of generating baseline data for later development of standards for five compounds: benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, formaldehyde, toluene and xylenes.7 The air toxics standards, based on the gathered baseline data, were due to be set in 20127 but are yet to be reviewed.

  • Graeme R Zosky1,2
  • Stephen Vander Hoorn3
  • Michael J Abramson4
  • Sophie Dwyer5
  • Donna Green6,7
  • Jane Heyworth3
  • Bin B Jalaludin8
  • Jennifer McCrindle-Fuchs6
  • Rachel Tham9
  • Guy B Marks10,11

  • 1 Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS
  • 2 University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS
  • 3 University of Western Australia, Perth, WA
  • 4 Monash University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 5 Queensland Health, Brisbane, QLD
  • 6 Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW
  • 7 Digital Grid Futures Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW
  • 8 Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, Sydney, NSW
  • 9 Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 10 University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW
  • 11 Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW



This work was submitted on behalf of the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research, a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. The funding source had no role in the study.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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