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WHAT IS AIR POLLUTION?  >  Air Pollution in Victoria


Air pollution is a problem that no major city in the world has avoided. Air pollution from industry, from the large numbers of homes clustered together in and around the cities and the widespread use of motor vehicles means that the quality of the air in cities suffers. Although the most obvious large emissions from factory chimneys have been eliminated – there are still lots of smaller amounts of polluting emissions from a broad range of large and small industries which contribute to Melbourne’s air pollution.

In Melbourne and other Victorian cities and towns, we are lucky. Air quality is good most of the time, thanks to low population density, favourable climate and tight regulations (see graphs below). The main air pollutants of concern for Victoria are ozone (in summer) and very small particles (mostly in winter) that we can breathe in. Unlike many of the developed countries in the world, acid rain is not a problem for us.

The following graphs compare Melbourne to international cities. Click on the graphs to enlarge.

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Maximum one hour ozone concentration (PPM) 1997

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Maximum one hour CO (PPM) 1997

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98th percentile of 24 hour mean PM10, mg/M3, 1997

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Annual Mean NO2 (PPM) 1997


Motor vehicles (cars and trucks) are usually the worst sources of air pollution. However, in wintertime – where temperatures get low enough for home heating to be needed - air pollution coming from wood fires, or other solid fuel heating can harmful. The greatest source of polluting particles in wintertime is from home heating. 

Many people in government, industries and universities in Victoria have been working on improving air quality by developing policies and regulations to reduce sources of pollution. It is very important that we understand what the main sources of pollution are and that we work out ways to avoid or reduce the pollution. 

Since the 1980's, the air quality in Melbourne has improved significantly. We can see this from the air pollution monitoring data collected by EPA Victoria’s monitoring network. 

It’s worth noting that not all sources of air pollution are human sources. Bushfires and dust storms can reduce the quality of Melbourne’s air. For example, Melbourne’s smog episodes in January 2003 were all due to reductions in air quality due to bushfires. Another well know example is due to the Melbourne dust storm of February 1983. The daytime sky over Melbourne darkened due to wind blown dust (mostly dry surface soils form North-East Victoria). 

Past successes

The three main success stories over the last three decades in managing air pollution in Melbourne have been:

  1.  the banning of backyard burning, 
  2.  the control of large point sources of pollution, and
  3.  greater controls on car exhausts.

Backyard burning, either as open fireplaces or in incinerators, was often the easiest way to get rid of garden prunings and rubbish such as old cardboard boxes, paper packaging and other flammable household waste. However, at certain times of the year, such burning markedly reduced Melbourne’s air quality.

Large point sources of pollution such as large factory chimneys were very visible with lots of black or grey smoke and soot coming out of them. We could easily see these sources of pollution and regulations were developed to make sure that industries with these smoky chimneys found better ways of doing business so that they no longer polluted the air. Sometimes you can still see what appears to be white smoke coming from some industries, but this is just condensed water vapour from cooling towers. Any other pollutants coming from the site are strictly controlled by environmental policies and regulations. 

Car exhausts have become much cleaner as a result of tighter regulations for new cars, especially the rule that new cars must have catalytic converters, which convert much of the toxic pollution from the engine into harmless gasses.


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Number of days each year when visibility was poorer than the State Environment Protection Policy limit. (1982 - 2002.)

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 Number of days each year when Ozone exceeded theState Environment Protection Policy limit, 1982 - 2002.


Future challenges

Air pollution from thousands of small sources (including car and truck exhausts, and the much smaller chimneys and flues from homes) needs to be reduced. These are often referred to as diffuse sources of pollution – and controlling pollution from these sources is a real challenge for EPA.

Individually the amount of pollution from each might be small – but because there are so many of them, and under the right conditions (for example, no wind), all of these small sources of pollution can add up to a serious problem for Melbourne’s air environment.

Reducing air pollution.

Although our air quality is mostly good, there are days when it could still be better.

There are lots of suggestions for improving the quality of our air elsewhere in this site. Look under the heading “Help improve our air” (make this a live link) for lots of hints for improvements.


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EPA Victoria, 200 Victoria St, Carlton, Melbourne - 3053
Telephone: 03 9695 2722 Fax: 03 9695 2610
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