Inadequate laws, along with government inaction, are contributing to an estimated 11,000 Australian premature deaths from transport pollution every year, according to a new report released by the Environmental Defenders Office.
Research shows people in Australia’s biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are regularly exposed to transport pollution at levels harmful to health, particularly the health of children, pregnant people, the elderly, and people living with disability and chronic diseases.
The report Toxic Transport: How Our Pollution Laws Are Failing to Protect Our Health found that Australian governments are failing to properly set targets and monitor air pollution that meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines. As a result, there is an absence of measures to effectively protect people from air pollution from transport.
The EDO report calls for all a coordinated, all-of-government response to improve the way air pollution is monitored and regulated, including adopting a comprehensive “exposure reduction framework” in line with WHO guidelines, at a minimum, to protect Australians from the harmful health impacts of pollution and help prevent unnecessary deaths.
According to EDO Policy and Law Reform Director Rachel Walmsley:
“Australia does not have effective laws which adequately measure transport pollution and reduce harm. Our laws must be brought into line with WHO air quality guidelines at a minimum, because the research shows that at the moment, significantly more Australians are dying prematurely from transport pollution than in road accidents.
“Transport connects us to everything. And yet our transport systems are largely reliant on petrol and diesel engines which emit toxic air pollution – particulates, nitrous oxides and other harmful pollutants – with serious threats to people’s wellbeing and our environment.
“Not only are Australians regularly exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed national targets, but our national targets themselves don’t meet international air quality targets set by the World Health Organization,” Ms Walmsley said.
EDO undertook a scoping study and examined the available scientific and health evidence, analysing how Australia’s current methods for monitoring air pollution is failing to capture the severity of the problem of transport pollution in our major cities.
Research reviewed by EDO shows there is no safe level of exposure to particulate matter. The research found 11,000 premature deaths each year were attributable to transport pollution – that’s almost 10 times the number of people killed in road traffic accidents in 2022.
“Children are particularly vulnerable to exposure to transport pollution because of the adverse impacts on lung development – yet they continue to be put in harm’s way and we’re just not addressing the problem,” Rachel Walmsley says.
“Unlike lifestyle factors, over which people have some control, exposure to air pollution is out of our hands. Governments have a crucial role to play in tackling Australia’s transport pollution problem to ensure everyone has equal access to clean air and a healthy environment.
“We’re calling on governments to adopt an exposure reduction framework that protects Australians from harmful transport pollution for better health and to fulfil our global climate commitments.”