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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

'Safe' pollution levels not so safe: QUT researcher


By Cameron Atfield, October 1, 2014

 The description of pollution levels when approving infrastructure projects across Australia, are misleading, says a Queensland expert.
 The description of pollution levels when approving infrastructure projects across Australia, are misleading, says a Queensland expert.

Increased pollution levels still classified as "safe" will kill 6000 Australians, a Queensland pollution expert has warned.

Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor Adrian Barnett said the description of potential pollution levels as "safe", which were used to approve infrastructure projects across Australia, were misleading.

Professor Barnett said an increase in pollution levels to just below the National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM) standards would cause an additional 6000 deaths a year.

Those included 2600 in both Sydney and Melbourne and 800 in Brisbane.

"The increase would hospitalise a further 20,700 people per year across those cities," Professor Barnett said.

"Study after study has shown there simply is no safe level of air pollution. Health problems in the population rise in line with increases in average pollution levels.

"It's understandable that the public could misinterpret the NEPM standards to mean anything below those levels is safe, but it's inexcusable for authorities to use this safe-or-dangerous interpretation.

"I have lost count of the number of government-commissioned environmental reports that have used this fallacy. This practice should have ended years ago."

Professor Barnett, whose commentary was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health on Wednesday, said recent environmental reports for coal trains in Queensland and Melbourne's planned East-West road link predicted "safe" levels of pollution increases.

"Locals concerned about the potential health effects have found it difficult to get past the argument that the increases are below the standards and therefore everything is fine," he said.

"But any new project that increases air pollution will always mean an increase in illness."

Professor Barnett, a health statistician, said deaths from pollution were already a reality.

His analysis of death rates in the Victorian town of Morwell following the 45-day Hazelwood coal fire showed a 15 per cent increase in the local death rate, which he said translated to between 11 and 14 premature deaths.