The harmful impact of air pollution on human health is well known. The Victorian community has no way of knowing what pollution and air quality trends are, and cannot independently investigate whether big polluters are complying with their emissions license conditions. Victoria needs access to air quality monitoring data similar to New South Wales.
Environmental Justice Australia welcomes the Victorian Government’s announcement of major reforms to the Environment Protection Authority (“EPA”). Our current system is inadequate to protect the environment and health of communities. These important reforms have the potential to strengthen environmental protection and community access to environmental justice.
Reforms to community rights are fundamental to enforcing change to access to air pollution monitoring data. Without easy access to air quality monitoring data, Victorians cannot investigate what is happening in the air and cannot utilise the law effectively.
Victoria needs better access to air quality monitoring data
The EPA is the authority in charge of regulating, licensing, monitoring and penalising pollution in Victoria. The Victorian Government supports the Inquiry’s recommendation that the EPA should significantly improve its air and water monitoring networks across Victoria.
The Victorian EPA reports air quality data on its website in hourly, 24 hourly, and 48 hourly averages. None of this information is available to download, and data-sets for specific dates cannot be accessed without written request to the EPA. Some industries, such as the power industry in the Latrobe Valley, have air monitors that capture data but this data is not reported, nor scrutinised, by the EPA. The only reporting duties that heavily polluting industries have in Victoria is to the National Pollutant Inventory.
New South Wales has a best-practise air-monitoring network that allows people immediate access to data. The NSW EPA hosts data from both its own air quality monitors and data from its industry monitoring network. All the data from these monitoring networks is downloadable.
Why is access to data important
The harmful impact of air pollution on human health is well known. The Victorian community has no way of knowing what pollution and air quality trends are, and cannot independently investigate whether big polluters are complying with their emissions license conditions.
An example of how access to this information is crucial to the community is the recent investigation Environmental Justice Australia conducted at the request of concerned community members in the Namoi region of NSW. When we audited easily accessible data from the NSW EPA air-monitoring website, we found discrepancies in the data reported from air quality monitors near mines in the Namoi. We were then able to support the community to take action by writing to the NSW EPA CEO asking him to initiate criminal proceedings under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) for false and misleading reporting.
This type of action is not available to Victorians who are concerned about air quality in their region. Instead, the community has to endure a lengthy process to request access to data from the EPA, or rely on the EPA to investigate claims if someone notices a discrepancy on the current EPA, or industry owned, air monitoring websites.
What the Victorian EPA can do for better access to air quality data
To achieve its goal of being a science-based regulator, and support communities in their access of environmental information, the EPA needs to redesign its air-monitoring website to resemble the New South Wales air monitoring quality website. This way communities throughout Victoria can scrutinise the data whenever they want, or need, such as the Namoi community was able to.
What EJA is doing to help communities
Environmental Justice Australia is working with Latrobe Valley community group Voices of the Valley to build on the air monitoring co-design process by improving access to air quality data. Without easy access to this data, and without the possibility of independent scrutiny of the data, the co-design process is a job half-done. The EPA should enforce industries to report their pollutant emissions data so all of us know what is happening in Victoria’s air.
By redesigning its air quality data website, communities throughout Victoria can be better informed of their air quality, can ask questions of the EPA and industry where discrepancies or incidents occur, and enforce measures to increase their access to environmental justice.
Victorians - if you're concerned about air pollution in your area report it to the Victorian EPA on 1300 372 842.
P.S. Are you an expert in air pollution science? Get in touch with us to find out how you can help our clean air campaign.