Air Quality

Air Quality

(Private Members Statement, 11 September 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Air quality remains a major concern for inner city residents who are exposed to ongoing traffic congestion and emissions from road tunnels. I hear from constituents who see thick black dust on their window sills and worry about their health. Air quality was one of the top three environmental concerns identified in the State 2012 "Who Cares about the Environment?" report, with concern highest among Sydney residents.

Air pollutants are associated with acute and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and have been linked to low birth rates and poor lung development in children. Poor air quality can cause tiredness, headaches, nausea, and eye, skin and throat irritation. In 2005 the then Department of Environment and Climate Change estimated that air pollution cost metropolitan Sydney $4.7 billion a year—equating to $893 per head. Motor vehicle emissions cause over half the world's air pollution and are responsible for most inner city pollution.

The Australian Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics estimates the health costs of motor vehicle pollution alone at $3.3 billion a year nationally, with $1.5 billion in Sydney. The recently released National Environment Protection Council report identified that Sydney's air kills more people than traffic accidents. While Sydney has experienced air quality improvements from reduced industrial activity and stronger motor vehicle, fuel quality, industry and wood-heater standards, actual motor vehicle use is growing with the population, thus offsetting air quality gains from fuel and vehicle standards under the Action for Air Strategy. As a result, improvements have stabilised since 2008. The six major pollutants identified by the National Environment Protection Council in 1998 are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, lead, ozone and particles. The 2012 State of the Environment Report identified that New South Wales fails to meet national air quality standards for ozone and particle pollution.

Motor vehicles and fuels are responsible for most of Sydney's ozone-forming pollutants—nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. They contribute 12 to 18 per cent of particle pollution, especially from diesel engines, and exposure is worse near major arterial roads. Motor vehicles also contribute to climate change, which erodes air quality because hotter days increase air pollutants through atmospheric changes and more bushfires. Bushfires and back burning often result in serious particle standard breaches in Sydney. We must reduce car dependence. I welcome the New South Wales Long Term Transport Master Plan, which includes vital projects to boost public transport use and provide new transport options. Included are plans to extend light rail through the central business district [CBD], freeing up the city centre from bus congestion, and to the Moore Park sporting stadia and entertainment area where events regularly bring traffic to a standstill.

The North West Rail Link will reduce the number of buses entering the city and give residents of the north-west a fast and efficient travel option. The second Sydney Harbour tunnel is essential to ensure that new services do not disrupt existing ones and that the rail system can expand in the future. The Government's Sydney City Centre Access Strategy will improve public transport flow, give priority to pedestrians and close the missing links in the bicycle network in the CBD. I understand that future plans will extend beyond the city centre. Bike riding does not create pollution and is a viable transport option if safe paths are provided. We need to ensure cycling continues to grow if we are to reduce car dependence. Licensing cyclists will be expensive, a deterrent to cycling and should not be adopted. Notwithstanding current progress, massive road network expansions continue to get priority, including the WestConnex project, despite encouraging car use and significantly increasing toxic emissions.

Inner city residents continue to ask that the Eastern Distributor and Cross City Tunnel ventilation stacks be filtered. The stacks are adjacent to homes, businesses and even children's playgrounds. Filtration should have been a condition of consent to protect neighbours from noxious emissions, improve overall ambient air quality and prevent pollution. The Government should filter tunnels in all new underground road projects. I point to concerns raised by the New South Wales Australian Medical Association and Asthma Foundation about local health impacts, particularly for children, from the unfiltered tunnel ventilation stacks of the proposed NorthConnex motorway. The Sydney-wide air quality monitoring network should include stations in the central business district. The closest station is Randwick with stations at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour and Mary Ann Park in Ultimo—part of the Cross City Tunnel approval having been decommissioned. Melbourne has two air quality monitoring sites in its CBD and Brisbane has one. Clean air is essential to social and economic sustainability. Regardless of breaches and compliance with basic standards, continually improving air quality should be a major government aim to improve population health. Cars are the biggest cause of air pollution in urban areas and reducing car dependence should be part of a long-term air quality strategy.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!