Air quality standards & laws
South Australian legislation
Air quality management is underpinned by a range of legislation and policy tools administered by various Government Departments in the Regulatory and Planning arenas. State Government bodies work together with local government authorities to achieve positive outcomes for our communities.
The Environment Protection Act 1993
The Environment Protection Act is the legislative foundation for regulating air quality in South Australia, creating a general environmental duty to take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent or minimise any resulting environmental harm; it also enables the development of specific environment protection policies.
Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy 2016
The Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy 2016 (Air Quality EPP) came into effect on 23 July 2016 and provides a legislative basis for air quality regulation and management in the state, including criteria for developing effective conditions to assist businesses and industries to improve their performance in minimising risk from air emissions through a system of licensing.
The policy simplifies the regulation of air quality by consolidating several previous guidelines and environment protection policies. It takes into account new research on air quality impacts from human activities, and provides clear criteria used by the EPA to manage air quality, improving certainty to industry and the community.
Some of the key changes in the Air Quality Policy include:
- the EPA taking a ‘whole-of-air-shed’ approach to managing air quality in South Australia
- regulating the sale and installation of wood heaters, and the sale of firewood
- streamlining council management of burning in the open through consistent and coherent regulation across the State, and ensuring the ability to burn off for bushfire prevention is maintained
- greater consideration of risk to health and the environment when setting stack emission limits.
Benefits of the updated Air Quality Policy will be significant in protecting human health and the environment by providing a modernised and consolidated legislative framework.
- Summary of the responses on the draft policy
- Features of the policy
- Smoke from domestic heating
- Burning in the open
Videos of the Air Quality Policy information session are now available on the EPA YouTube channel:
- Burning in the open
- Solid fuel heaters
Section 18 of the Policy also directly references 3 publications designed to assist proponents with developing submissions to the EPA for proposed developments, changes to existing activities, or meeting requirements for licences and other authorisations relating to Part 6 of the of the Environment Protection Act 1993, or the general environmental duty under section 25 of the Act. These are:
- Evaluation distances for effective air quality and noise management
- Ambient air quality assessment
- Emission testing methodology for air pollution
The Development Act 1993
Development in South Australia is defined in the Development Act 1993 and requires approval in the form of a development authorisation from a relevant planning authority – either a local council or the Development Assessment Commission. The authorisation is obtained following an application and assessment process.
In accordance with section 37 of the Development Act 1993 and regulation 24 of the Development Regulations 2008 (Part 5), planning authorities are required to refer certain types of development applications to other agencies, known as 'prescribed bodies', for specialist advice. The EPA is one of these prescribed bodies.
When providing advice or direction to planning authorities regarding a proposed development referred to it under the Development Act, the EPA may require the proponent to provide further information to demonstrate that the proposed development doesn’t pose an unacceptable risk to air quality. This ensures that development takes air quality into account and our communities and the environment are protected.
The South Australian Public Health Act 2011
The South Australian Public Health Act 2011, which is administered by SA Health, provides for the protection of South Australians’ health and the reduction of the incidence of preventable illnesses such as those caused by air pollution.
The Public Health Act requires that a State Public Health Plan is developed that assesses the state of public health in South Australia, identifies existing and potential public health risks, and develops strategies for addressing (eliminating or reducing) those risks. It also needs to identify opportunities and outline strategies for promoting public health in the state.
The first State Public Health Plan has been released and clearly includes clean air as a requirement for and determinant of good health, noting that exposure to urban air pollution accounts for 2.3% of all deaths. The plan anticipates an increase in respiratory diseases and allergies from the likely increase in air pollution (from dust and bushfires) under a changing climate. It identifies the health benefits of a focus on green infrastructure—an interconnected network of physical assets that deliver landscape and environmental values or functions—for improving air quality.
Local Government Act 1999
One of the functions of South Australian local councils is to manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the local environment, and improve amenity. Councils are therefore often at the forefront of air quality issues.
Air quality issues may vary considerably between metropolitan and regional or rural council areas. Greater Adelaide is a large and diverse city, comprising older, established areas and young suburbs that are actively growing around new commercial hubs; more industrialised areas with particular problems at interfaces between competing land uses; and areas in the Adelaide Hills with a unique mix of activities. While some air quality issues are common to all urban areas, many councils may face individual issues.
Many councils have been highly active in developing their own environmental strategies, addressing issues ranging from adaptation to climate change to improving lifestyle choices for residents regarding local transport, many of which have the potential for direct benefits for air quality.
National Environment Protection Measures
There are 4 National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs) that deal with air quality matters. NEPMs are statutory instruments which outline agreed national objectives for protecting or managing certain aspects of the environment.
The South Australian Government has monitoring and reporting responsibilities under the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) and the National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure (Air Toxics NEPM).
The AAQ NEPM was originally established in 1998 under the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994, and the corresponding Act of each participating state and territory, to provide a nationally consistent framework for monitoring and reporting on six common air pollutants – carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, lead and particles as PM10. The AAQ NEPM was varied in 2003 to include advisory reporting standards for fine particles as PM2.5.
In December 2015 the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) approved a variation to the particle standards, including adopting annual and daily reporting standards for PM2.5 of 8 μg/m3 and 25 μg/m3, aiming to move to 7 μg/m3 and 20 μg/m3 respectively by 2025, and establishing an annual average standard for particles as PM10.
The standards for nitrogen dioxide, ozone and sulfur dioxide are currently being reviewed and this work is being led by Victoria.
National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure 2004
In 2004 the Air Toxics NEPM was established to facilitate monitoring and reporting on five air toxics which have been associated with a range of health problems: benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, xylenes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These air toxics exist at relatively low concentrations in urban air sheds, with significantly elevated levels only occurring near sources such as industrial sites, heavily used roads and areas affected by wood smoke.
National Environment Protection (National Pollutant Inventory) Measure [as varied] 2008
National Environment Protection (Diesel Vehicle Emissions) Measure 2001
Other National Legislation
Legislation related to motor vehicles and vehicle fuels has also been important for improving air quality.
Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000
The Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (FSQ Act) provides the legislative basis for national fuel quality and fuel quality information standards for Australia and is administered by the Department of the Environment. The Fuel Quality Standards Act regulates the quality of fuel supplied in Australia in order to reduce the level of toxic pollutants in vehicle emissions, such as benzene and particulates; facilitate the adoption of better engine technology and emission control technology; and allow the more effective operation of engines. The Commonwealth has established an effective system for tracking fuel quality across Australia and has been successful in prosecuting breaches such a deliberate mis-fuelling or selling non-standard fuels or blends.
The EPA participates in this process through the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee, a statutory body established under the FQS Act to advise the Commonwealth Environment Minister on matters relating to fuel formulations, standards, compliance, and economic and environmental impacts of any changes.
The Committee comprises members from each Australian jurisdiction, fuel supplier and vehicle manufacturing peak bodies, motoring associations, consumer affairs authorities and community organisations, to provide broad representation of views across the industry and government.
The FSQ Act was independently reviewed in 2015 and the final report was released in April 2016.
Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 and the Australian Design Rules
The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are national standards for vehicle safety, anti-theft and emissions. The ADRs are generally performance based and cover a range of issues, one of which is engine exhaust emissions, which given vehicles are a major source of emissions in urban areas has implications for air quality.
The current standards, the Third Edition ADRs, are administered at the national level by the Australian Government under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. The Act requires all road vehicles to comply with the relevant ADRs at the time of manufacture and supply to the Australian market, whether they are newly manufactured in Australia or are imported as new or second hand vehicles.