Measuring, monitoring and reporting but not intervening: air quality in Australian mining and smelting areas

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Air quality in Australian mining and smelting towns and communities is receiving ever greater scrutiny as to its potential adverse impact on human health. This article examines atmospheric emissions of lead, SO₂ and particulate matter, associated with mining and smelting operations in the Hunter Valley (New South Wales), Mount Isa (Queensland) and Port Pirie (South Australia) and the evidence associated with potential adverse human health outcomes. Analysis of available data shows, quite clearly, that the various measures for lead, SO₂ and particulate matter, as established under Australia's National Environment Protection Measure Ambient Air Quality criteria, are not being met. These exceedences continue to occur, despite the fact that all states and territories agreed to conform to the 1992 Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment, which provides uniformity of standards and environmental quality. Industrial atmospheric emissions of lead and SO₂ in the communities of Mount Isa and Port Pirie are associated with adverse health outcomes. Consequently, the data indicate that the current arrangements for environmental and human health protection are inadequate, both in terms of standards applied and enforcement. With respect to particulate emissions in the Upper Hunter Valley, it is clear that there are regular exceedences of the PM10 24-hour criterion in multiple locations. Similarly, the advisory 24-hour and annual standards for PM2.5 (25 μg m⁻³ and 8 μg m⁻³ respectively) are also exceeded for multiple locations and occasions. However, sources of these emissions are less clear, with domestic and industrial emissions contributing to particulate air quality concentrations. Despite substantive global evidence of adverse health impacts associated with particulate exposure, adverse human health effects on Upper Hunter communities are yet to be established. Overall, it is clear that greater focus on independent research of human health impacts from environmental emissions in Australia's mining and smelting communities is needed. Proper enforcement of air quality standards, as opposed to simply measuring, monitoring and reporting on air quality, is required urgently, to ensure mining and smelting communities are not subject to unequal environmental standards. Failure to enforce equal standards and attain equivalent environmental quality measures would be tantamount to the impacted communities providing a subsidy to both industry and the rest of the community, which by any measure is unreasonable.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)35-42
    Number of pages8
    JournalAir Quality and Climate Change
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Air Quality
    • Atmospheric Emissions Health
    • Lead
    • Particulate Matter
    • SO₂


    Dive into the research topics of 'Measuring, monitoring and reporting but not intervening: air quality in Australian mining and smelting areas'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this