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Pollution sources

Metropolitan Adelaide

Figure 22 shows sources of air pollution for different regions in South Australia as well as related impacts. Air quality in metropolitan Adelaide is affected by:

  • emissions from transport
  • industrial processes
  • solid fuel heaters
  • small engines, for example lawnmowers and leaf blowers
  • occasional fires, for example planned burns, bushfires and emergency incidents.

soer2018_airquality_graphic2Figure 22: Key pressures and impacts on air quality in South Australia

Our growing population and related increase in vehicles can potentially worsen Adelaide’s air quality over time unless a substantial change occurs in vehicle technology or use.

Data from the National Pollutant Inventory shows combined vehicle and domestic emissions make up 70% or more of metropolitan Adelaide’s total emissions.

The SA Government is actively promoting cleaner technologies for vehicles through its Low Emission Vehicle Strategy. Nationally, vehicle emission standards are set through Australian Design Rules, and the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 regulates fuel quality.

The other 30% of emissions come from industrial and other sources, such as soil dust. The exposure from these sources varies between locations and seasons. Examples as follows:

  • People living or working near major roads or industrial/commercial activities are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollutants.
  • During summer, dust storms and fires contribute to increased air pollution.
  • On still, cold winter nights, smoke and other fine particles may build up in Adelaide and exceed national standards.
  • A series of still, hot days in summer can build up significant levels of ozone, which is produced when pollutants from vehicles and other fuel-burning activities are mixed together under sunlight, producing a cocktail of photochemical smog.
  • Summer is also a season of windy days when dust, on the ground or from stockpiles of industrial materials, can be blown around causing higher particle levels.

Airborne particles cause problems

Figure 23 presents a summary diagram of monitoring results that shows the extent to which the PM10 standard for particles (50 µg/m3) is exceeded from time to time.

soer2018_Adelaide_PM10Figure 23: Exceedences of the 24-hour PM10 standard at EPA monitoring stations in metropolitan Adelaide

The dry conditions characterising the Millennium Drought leading up to 2009–10 resulted in the PM10 standard recorded at metropolitan stations being exceeded more times than in subsequent years. This was probably due to a combination of more dust being raised by winds and less rain falling to suppress dust and smaller particle emissions. It was a widespread effect in SA, which was also reflected in PM10 data recorded in regional centres, such as Whyalla (Figure 24) and Port Pirie (Figure 26).

No exceedences were recorded in 2011 and from 2012 onwards, most stations recorded that the PM10 standard was exceeded 1 to 3 times per year resulting from specific regional events, usually dust storms.

Over recent years, the EPA has built on its ability to measure PM2.5 particles at metropolitan monitoring sites. This has been done, in part, to bring us in line with the national PM2.5 standards, which were established in December 2015 to replace the previous advisory reporting standards.

Formation of PM2.5 particles is largely from combustion, typically burning fuels in vehicles and domestic wood heaters in urban areas, as well as contributions from a range of industrial processes. Domestic heaters generate substantial quantities of PM2.5 in both the metropolitan area and regional centres, such as Mount Gambier and the Adelaide Hills.

Wood is an effective, renewable fuel if burnt efficiently. Unfortunately, heater design and poor operating practices can prevent efficient burning. Modern heaters are designed to burn a lot cleaner than older models. However, even with the better heaters, issues with wood smoke can be made worse by cold, still weather conditions called temperature inversions, which typically occur during the cooler months of the year. Individuals can play an active role in improving local air quality by ensuring they operate heaters correctly.

Other sources in our homes include fuel-powered garden equipment and other small engines, many of which, especially two-stroke engines, are comparatively ‘dirty’. Some types may emit 40 times the particles and volatile organic compounds emitted by a typical car. This means, for their size and weight, they can be significant contributors to both local and broad metropolitan air quality issues. 

The Product Emissions Standards Act 2017, passed on 11 September 2017, now allows the government to set emissions standards and establish controls for non-road spark ignition engines and equipment, such as lawn mowers, gardening equipment and marine engines.


Odour is another important aspect of air quality, especially where the odour source is close to where people live and work.

Odour sources include:

  • abattoirs
  • asphalt plants
  • food processors
  • coffee roasters
  • wastewater and sewage treatment plants
  • petrol stations
  • spray booths
  • incinerators
  • waste and recycling operations.

Local effects depend on frequency, intensity, duration, offensiveness and location of the odour.

Table 11: Emission sources in metropolitan Adelaide


Pollutant type




  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Emissions distributed over urban areas in large amounts contribute to general particle levels within the metropolitan area

Finer particles within the PM2.5 range penetrate 100–150 metres into residential developments and may be a significant additional risk for nearby residents

10–50% of urban populations may be directly affected at times

Diesel vehicles emit higher concentrations of PM2.5 particles than petrol vehicles, on average.

Domestic heating


  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Emissions of particles from wood heaters distributed across suburban areas in large amounts contribute to general particle levels within the metropolitan area

Wood heaters:

  • constitute a significant nuisance problem for neighbours if poorly operated, as emissions are highly odorous and irritating
  • are a common source of complaints to the EPA and councils
  • can cause significant build up of PM2.5 in low-lying areas or metropolitan Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills.

Small engines



  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

High emissions of fine particles and associated organic compounds, especially from two-stroke engines, which are up to 40 times the average car’s emissions

Local nuisance effects from particles and odour, exacerbated by high noise levels

May contribute to elevated PM2.5 loadings in Adelaide, particularly on weekends during spring and summer.

Industrial and commercial sources


Combustion smoke:

  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Acid gases and mists
  • Odours
  • Chemical and metal fumes
  • Toxic or irritating dusts
  • Dust raising from stockpiles and internal roadways
  • Biological materials

May cause local impacts at ground level in the vicinity of emission sources in a plant

May contribute significantly to regional particle levels in parts of the metropolitan area

Small wood-fired ovens may cause local smoke and odour impacts

Landfills, earthworks and construction activities may cause dust-raising with local nuisance effects.


Planned burning (fuel-reduction burning)



  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Fuel reduction burning in national parks in the Adelaide Hills generally has local or small-scale impacts but, because the fires burn at relatively low temperatures, may cause impacts downwind

Unlikely to have broader-scale impacts in metropolitan area unless control is lost, for example, combustion parameters incorrectly modelled, moisture content and weather changes

Some recent examples exist where smoke has tracked through the metropolitan area to be registered at EPA monitoring stations

Stubble burning can have quite wide impacts on visible smoke pollution in the metropolitan area.

Unplanned burning and bushfires



  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

These fires pose an immediate risk of injury to people and animals or damage to property in their paths

Can be very intense smoke from bushfires over wide areas, which may cause prolonged effects in susceptible people for several weeks, especially those with chronic heart or respiratory conditions

Communities might be exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 that are several times the current health standards

On occasions crosses state borders, for example the 2010 Victorian bushfires

Regional centres

Air quality in regional centres and rural areas is influenced by:

  • land management practices (farming)
  • mining and other major industrial processes
  • domestic solid fuel heaters
  • fires
  • material handling
  • transport
  • natural sources, such as dust storms.

Mount Gambier

A 3-year Smokewatch project in Mount Gambier, completed in 2011, found that wood smoke, especially from domestic heaters, caused PM2.5 concentrations in winter to exceed the national standards. This project, a collaboration between state and local government and the private sector, is a good example of how these sectors, working together, can promote awareness and behaviour change to improve air quality.


Whyalla, with its major steelworks, also experienced high particle concentrations at times (Figure 24). Major investments in the plant, coupled with the drought breaking in 2010, have significantly reduced population exposure.

soer2018_whyalla_PM10Figure 24: Exceedences of the PM10 24-hour GLC criterion (50 µg/m3)
at Whyalla monitoring sites

Port Pirie

Port Pirie is the site of one of the world’s largest primary lead smelters. It has attracted considerable attention over the years because of the effects of lead, especially on children

Emissions have shown a steady decline, mainly due to regulatory oversight by the EPA (Figure 25). In addition, the Targeted Lead Abatement Program has focused on further measures to limit childrens lead uptake. The program continues to build on the previous ‘Ten by 10’ (Nyrstar/EPA partnership) and Nyrstar’s ‘Ten for them’ projects.

However, the reduction in lead emissions plateaued around 2012 due to technical constraints of the old plant. Following an EPA direction for Nyrstar to take action, Nyrstar reached an agreement with the SA and Australian Governments to undertake a major upgrade of the facility to provide step-change reductions in emissions. Known as the Nyrstar Transformation Project, the upgrade will deliver significant improvements in community health and environmental performance, including reductions in carbon emissions.

soer2018_portpirie_leadFigure 25: Trends in airborne lead at Port Pirie measured at EPA monitoring sites

Particle emissions have been declining in Port Pirie since the millennium drought (Figure 26). 

soer2018_portpirie_PM10Figure 26: Exceedences of the PM10 24-hour GLC criterion (50 µg/m3) at Port Pirie monitoring sites since 2003

Sulfur dioxide emissions have shown an upward trend in recent years (Figure 27). While levels are still below the annual average GLC criterion, there is a growing occurrence of higher than the 1-hour and 24-hour GLC criteria (Figure 28). However, the Port Pirie Transformation Project is also expected to result in significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions.

soer2018_portpirie_SO2Figure 27: Annual average sulfur dioxide (SO₂) at Port Pirie since 2003

soer2018_portpirie_SO2_hourlyFigure 28: Recorded exceedences of the 1-hour (0.02 ppm) and 24-hour (0.08 ppm) sulfur dioxide GLC criteria at Port Pirie since 2003

Rural areas

South Australia’s regional centres are surrounded by activities ranging from crop farming, meat and wool production, forestry and fishing, through to major transport centres, extensive mining operations, and major ports and their associated wharfing operations (Tables 12 and 13).

Agricultural activities can create issues for regional communities through:

  • dust raising, either from cultivation or transport
  • chemical handling
  • spray drift
  • odour from intensive animal husbandry.

Odour can be an extremely vexed and intractable problem because of variations in how individuals experience and respond to odours. 

Mining and its related transport may have impacts on rural communities through dust coming from the mining operations themselves, or from transport to ports and ship loading.

Table 12: Pollutant types in regional centres


Pollutant type


Mount Gambier

Wood smoke

Agricultural and material-handling activities

PM2.5 particles exceed national standards especially during winter, largely due to wood smoke

PM10 particles are generated from agricultural and material-handling activities in warmer months

Port Pirie

Smelter operations

Wharf operations and ship loading


PM10 particles and lead levels exceed regulatory targets and limits for lead in Port Pirie

Lead-containing dust from smelter operations and historic contamination

Sulfur dioxide concentrations regularly exceed the 1-hour GLC

Windblown dust can also cause elevated particle levels at times


Steel-making operations

PM10 particle levels exceed GLC criteria at times

Windblown dust causes elevated levels at times

Roxby Downs

Mining operations

Particles from extraction, processing and transporting of minerals


Table 13: Pollutants types in rural and agricultural areas

Pollutant type


Mining operations and related transport, and ship loading

PM2.5 and PM10 particles from mineral extraction, processing and transport cause adverse impacts through inhalation and deposition

Nuisance dust impacts

Agricultural and forestry operations

Exposure of people and plants to spray drift from chemical applications

Windblown dust from cleared land

Smoke from forestry coupe burns, following felling operations

Particles from stubble burning

Odour from intensive animal keeping

Controlled burns and bushfires

Particles, visibility and deposition