Kwinana and Perth region air quality measurements compared to California and Australian Eastern States

In view of the constant negative media articles about Kwinana and Perth air pollution, CAPS has put together this page comparing air monitoring data from Kwinana and Perth with comparable data from Los Angeles and the Eastern States.
It is clear that Perth has very little in the way of  significant air quality problems and we have to ask why it is that the media gives us such a slanted view.

As a society we have to weigh up the costs of continually tightening air quality standards (presumably to cut down risk of harm), against other areas of public spending aimed at enhancing  life or reducing risk of harm.

Air monitoring data is collected in Perth and Kwinana (Hope Valley and Wattleup) by the DEP and in Kwinana by the Kwinana Industrial Council, (Abercrombie Rd, Henderson Rd / Fanstone Av. and Miguel Rd). Thanks are due to these to organizations for data.
The California Air Resources Board has a website with much interesting information, downloadable reports are available and if asked they will mail out data CD ROM's. So thanks are due there too.
The Eastern States data came from pdf files downloaded from the NSW and Victorian EPA's websites which only post a few years data and longer term data has had to be gleaned from hard copy reports. Still we must be thankful for whatever crumbs fall our way.
In general air monitoring data is not easy to get hold of.
The Californian ARB Almanac 2001 makes it plain that their most severe problems are ozone, PM10 (airborne dust) and carbon monoxide.Nitrogen dioxide is seen as a "precurssor" to ozone formation  while sulphur dioxide, SO2 has been radically reduced in California and is now not a top priority problem.

So looking first at ozone (and remember this is not the ozone in the stratosphere), we see the steady reduction in Los Angeles ozone over the two decades, yet LA peak levels are still almost twice standards set by the US EPA or the State in the 0.08 to 0.12 ppm range. In fact much of California exceeds these standards. Rockingham ozone levels are just under the 0.1 ppm standard  but this only happens on a few very hot days for the few hours when the sun is at a maximum and it is interesting that Rottnest ozone levels are very similar to Rockingham, yet precurssors are much less concentrated at Rottnest. It looks as though once you get around the 0.1 ppm level for summer hot day peaks there could be natural species in the air contributing to ozone peaks. The ASL website (see links) points out that many US localities will never attain the EPA ozone standards and that in many rural places air can exceed these standards. All suggesting natural causes for ozone around the 0.1 ppm level.  On the Western Australian DEP website they only discuss pollution causes for ozone, there is no hint that ozone can have natural causes.  This is a point where I think the DEP is wrong but hey !!, it might upset the Greens to have to be told that high ozone levels can have natural causes.

Inhalable dust particles are measured in several ways but PM 10 refers to particles under 10 microns in diameter, which encompasses  dust from various souirces natural & industrial and bushfire smoke.  Perth levels are generally under the 50 u/gm per m3 averaged over 24 hours standard but most of California exceeds this criteria.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas produced in combustion, meaning that vehicle engines are a significant source. Improvements in engine design and fuel standards have contributed to greatly reduced levels of CO despite more vehicles being on the roads. The standard in Perth and California  is 9 ppm over 8 hours.

Nitrogen dioxide NO2 is also a product of combustion and at levels measured in Perth is of little concern to health, however it plays a role in ozone formation.  The Perth standard is 0.12 ppm over 1 hour and it is not clear what the California standard is but all areas are said to be attaining the standard.

Sulphur dioxide or SO2 forms from the combustion of fuels containing sulphur. Continued improvements in fuels and scrubbers in smokestacks have all helped to reduce sulphur in the air.  The Perth standard is 0.08 ppm =~228 micrograms per cubic metre. Some comparisons with eastern States industrial areas have been included where data can be gleaned.

The current national NEPM 1 hour standard for sulphur dioxide is 0.2 ppm and it is plain that Kwinana air readings have been well within this since 1995. It is not clear from the California Almanac what their SO2 standard is but current levels seem to cause little concern.  The ES areas probably use the same 0.2 ppm standard.

So we can see that Perth and Kwinana air quality compares very well with that from other comparable regions.


Kwinana Industries Council

WA Dept of Environment, data on air monitoring

Melbourne air quality, also Greenhouse Issues. Back to front page

Posted 27, September 2002, updated 19, May 2003

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