Bendigo’s air quality largely unknown, new report finds

An audit has found the EPA has failed to provide a better understanding of air quality in areas including Bendigo.
An audit has found the EPA has failed to provide a better understanding of air quality in areas including Bendigo.

The Environmental Protection Agency Victoria has failed to monitor air quality in Bendigo for more than ten years, according to a new report from the Victorian Auditor-General.

And the EPA has “failed to provide a better understanding of air quality” in many parts of Victoria.

The Auditor-General’s office examined whether Victoria met ozone and air standards, including for particulate matter, which, once inhaled, could cause respiratory and other health problems.

The audit found the EPA does not provide air quality for most of the state, despite adopting a plan in 2001 to cover cities including Bendigo, Ballarat, Mildura, Shepparton, Warrnambool and Wodonga.

The EPA told the Auditor-General’s office this was because previous monitoring showed “pollutant levels were reasonably expected to be consistently below the relevant standards”.

The Auditor-General’s report found the EPA had not updated the plan to reflect 17 years of Victorian population growth and industrial activity.

The last time the EPA monitored air in Bendigo was between May 2004 and July 2005. A 2006 EPA report noted elevated levels of PM10, a type of particulate matter, in the six towns. 

That report highlighted the need for more extensive monitoring in all six regional areas.

The Auditor-General’s report also found some inaccurate assessments of particulate matter air quality standards.

Those inaccuracies were infrequent, but they overstated air quality and so served “to undermine confidence in publicly reported data.”

Further, the report found the roles and responsibilities of agencies contributing to air quality management remained unclear and not well understood.

“Consequently, attempts to address air quality issues have not always been well coordinated and implemented,” the report stated.

“Nor has EPA kept itself fully informed of, and updated, on air pollution sources. As a result, EPA risks not focusing its resources on those air discharges that adversely impact air quality and potentially human health.”

One the bright side, the report said regulation of air quality had begun to improve.

The agency said in a statement that the findings underscored the reform work already under way at the agency.

It accepted the report’s recommendations, which included reviewing its monitoring plan and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies.

“Clean air is vital for protecting Victorians’ health and quality of life, and in maintaining our livability,” the EPA said.

“The government has invested $162 million to provide Victorians with a modernised EPA well equipped and resourced to address environment challenges, including air pollution.”