Sydney’s air quality monitors placed mostly in parks, not streets

The Sydney skyline on a smoggy morning. Sydney’s deputy lord mayor said the failure to conduct roadside air quality tests made the whole system deficient.The Sydney skyline on a smoggy morning. Sydney’s deputy lord mayor said the failure to conduct roadside air quality tests made the whole system deficient.

THE air Sydneysiders breathe may not be as clean as they are being told.

The city’s air pollution warning system has been ­exposed as a farce, with not a single testing station in the car-clogged inner city, and most of the rest located in tree-lined parks.

The Daily Telegraphcan reveal the NSW Office of ­Environment and Heritage (OEH) has flouted its own air quality monitoring standards, which state samples should not be taken “near leafy vegetation” because it can result in skewed readings.

At least three of Sydney’s 16 air quality monitoring stations — at Earlwood, Lindfield and Chullora — do not meet the standard because they are within 20m of trees.

Sydney deputy Lord Mayor Jess Miller.
A Sydney Airport runway on a smoggy day.               

At least two others, Rozelle and Macquarie Park, are in areas surrounded by vegetation.

There is not a single monitor in the inner city, where emissions from vehicles and industry make air pollution higher than in leafy outer suburbs.

This is despite guidelines the OEH uses rating city stations as “peak sites” that are “especially useful for air quality compliance monitoring”.

The OEH’s official Air Quality Index rated the air in Sydney as “very good”, “good” or “fair” almost 90 per cent of the time last year.

Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Miller said the failure to conduct roadside air quality tests made the whole system deficient.

“It doesn’t appear as if it’s an accurate measurement of the air people are actually breathing, particularly people who live on busy roads and in areas undergoing a lot of construction,” Ms Miller said.

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“People deserve to know what it is they’re breathing in.”

Associate Professor Clare Murphy, from the University of Wollongong’s clean air and urban landscapes hub, said people could be being misled if they are only given information about readings taken in “green” areas.

But an OEH spokeswoman defended the system, calling it “the largest and most comprehensive” network in Australia.