Source: Stacey Semiklit



This section provides an assessment of air quality, the impacts of air pollution on human health, the sources and emissions of air pollutants, and amenity. The following indicators are assessed:

For background information on air quality in the ACT see Background: Air quality

The air quality impacts caused by the 2019–20 bushfire season are also discussed in 4. Bushfires in the ACT.

For the emissions of greenhouse gases see section Climate changeIndicator CC3: Greenhouse gas emissions.

That the ACT Government: 


Extend bans on new wood heater installations to all Canberra districts and continue to promote the replacement of wood heaters in the Tuggeranong Valley as a matter of urgency.


Collect and report annually on data relating to the impacts of air pollution on human health and associated costs to the health system and economy. This includes increasing available health data around hospital admissions and variances in respiratory and cardiovascular problems associated with poor air quality.


Increase the community’s uptake of public and active transport to reduce private vehicle emissions through improving public transport services and expanding active travel routes.


Undertake an assessment of air pollutant emissions from diffuse sources to update the National Pollutant Inventory data from 1999.

A1: Compliance with air quality standards




The extreme air pollution from the 201920 bushfires is excluded for this indicator.

PM2.5 is the most serious air quality issue for the ACT. Exceedances of the daily air pollution standards occur in most years in the Tuggeranong Valley, mainly due to smoke from wood heaters. Periods of elevated PM2.5 levels are likely to have health implications for sensitive community members. The other air pollutants monitored in the ACT are compliant with air quality standards, except for ozone which recorded one exceedance in 2019.

A2: Health impacts of air pollution




There is currently no data available on the impacts of non-bushfire air pollution on human health in the ACT, nor the associated costs to the health system and the economy. Current expert and research consensus suggests that air pollution, even at concentrations within the current air quality standards, is associated with adverse health effects.

Smoke from the 2019–20 bushfires caused significant health issues in the ACT with an estimated 31 excess deaths and 318 hospital admissions.

A3: Emissions of major air pollutants




With the exception of PM2.5, data on the origins and emissions of diffuse source air pollution has not been updated since 1999 despite contributing the majority of air pollutant emissions in the ACT. In the absence of current data, it is not possible to assess changes in air pollution emissions over the reporting period. For PM2.5, smoke from wood heaters, bushfires and planned burns accounted for around 50% of the total levels, with wood heaters the main source contributing up to 75% of total PM2.5 in cooler months. 

The ACT’s annual monitoring and reporting activities for point source emissions complied with the National Environment Protection National Pollutant Inventory Measure over the reporting period.

A4: Amenity




Between 2018 and 2022, a total of 14,388 complaints were received by the EPA regarding environmental conditions. Noise was responsible for 80% of complaints and is clearly a significant concern in the ACT. Air pollution was responsible for 13% of the total complaints and was mainly in response to smoke (wood heaters and controlled burns).


Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.

Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.

Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.

Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.



Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus.

Limited evidence or limited consensus.

Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment.

Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator.

2019–20 bushfire season

Air quality (excluding impacts from the 201920 bushfires)

Particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in size (PM2.5)

Other air pollutants

Health impacts of air pollution

Emissions of air pollutants



Contributors to poor air quality in the ACT include domestic emissions (wood heater smoke, small engines), industry, transport, bushfires and hazard reduction burns. Human activities which impact air quality more broadly are climate change, intensified urbanisation (including reduction in urban vegetation), and increased transport and energy demands from a growing population.

Following the 2019–20 summer, when the ACT and surrounding areas were subject to extended periods of unprecedented smoke pollution from bushfires, the complex relationship between the health, environment, social and economic impacts of poor air quality became impossible to ignore in Canberra, with many residents unable to avoid the smoke even inside their homes. This experience of the impacts of acute air pollution has informed the development of a number of policy approaches during this reporting period.

Policy Framework

The Environment Protection Act 1997 is the primary piece of ACT legislation concerned with air pollution. The Environment Protection Regulation 2005 made under this Act puts into practice the regulation of polluting activities. Part 2 of the Regulation refers to emissions into the air, identifying causes of environmental harm and offenses for the following:

Wood heater smoke emerging from household chimneys.

The Air Environment Protection Policy is also prepared in accordance with the Environment Protection Act 1997. It provides information relating to the management of ambient air quality and pollutant emissions to the atmosphere in the ACT. The objective of this policy is to ensure that air quality in the ACT at least meets national standards for ambient air and to minimise environmental harm from local emissions of air pollutants.

This document provides details on and references to the relevant policies and/or guidelines for:

Policy and regulation under the Environment Protection Act 1997 is enforced by the EPA.

The community’s experience of the impacts of acute air pollution during the 2019–20 bushfires has informed the development of a number of policy approaches during this reporting period. The Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy 20212025 was developed following the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires. It seeks to reduce air pollution from bushfires and other polluting activities through synergistically addressing these related issues across four phases of bushfire management:


  • support the implementation of the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan to manage and reduce bushfire risks and consequences in the ACT, and
  • strengthen measures to address the air quality impacts of wood heaters.


  • enhance air quality monitoring and forecasting
  • consider the impact of air quality associated with bushfire smoke through all phases of the emergency management continuum, and
  • support the development of buildings that are resilient to air pollution.


  • support the health and wellbeing of Canberrans affected by bushfire and woodfire smoke, and
  • provide targeted support to vulnerable populations and workers during severe air pollution events.


  • provide economic supports to businesses, communities and individuals affected by severe bushfire smoke.

Generally, there is an antagonistic relationship between bushfire management and air quality, and care needs to be taken to balance the benefits from fire risk reductions with calculable harm to population health. Planned hazard reduction burns will unavoidably conflict with air quality outcomes at some times.

In addition to policies in the environment sphere, several transport policies and plans have been in play during this reporting cycle. They include the Act Transport Strategy 2020, the Zero-Emission Transition Plan for Transport Canberra, and the Transition to Zero Emissions Vehicles Action Plan 2018–21. While their goals and actions focus mainly on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in ACT, increasing the use of low- or no-emissions vehicles will also have benefits for air quality as particulates and other by-products of combustion engines will be reduced.

The Public Health Act 1997 aims to protect the public from public health risks, to provide the public with information about the health of the population, and to design and implement appropriate policies and programs for the maintenance and improvement of the population’s health. This Act includes only one mention of air quality in a general requirement for any person to notify of “any substance or matter that the person has reasonable grounds for believing to constitute a significant public health hazard” and that this may be in “water or air or elsewhere in the environment”. In terms of public health, the World Health Organisation identifies that “air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risk to health”. As such, a greater emphasis on air quality in the Public Health Act 1997 might be expected.

Management gaps

The simplest and most direct performance indicator of the effectiveness of air policies in the ACT is the measured level of air quality relative to the applicable air quality standards and criteria. In the ACT, this is provided by the Air Quality Index, which allows a like-for-like comparison between all air pollutants to be made.

The air quality in the ACT does not meet criteria for PM2.5, one of the most harmful air pollutants for human health. Based on available data, the suite of policies applied to manage wood heater emissions is presently failing to achieve air quality at the levels required to protect community health. The ACT Government’s commitment in 2023 to phase out wood heaters by 2045 should over time address this pollution source.

As described above, there is no available data relating to the impacts of pollution on human health other than for bushfires. Further investment in air quality monitoring infrastructure would assist in filling this knowledge gap. This should in turn enable more targeted interventions to reduce particulate pollution. In general, fuller engagement by ACT Health in this space would strengthen the capacity of the ACT Government to proactively protect its citizens from the effects of poor air quality.

The ACT Environment Protection Regulation 2005, Division 2.2 Chimney emissions, refers to repealed “National guidelines for the control of emission of air pollutants from new stationary sources, 1985”, which is available only in hard copy in the national archives. It stipulates limits that are tens of times higher than would be considered acceptable for new plant in the remainder of Australia and most comparable international jurisdictions. The air emissions standards set out in the ACT Environment Protection Regulation 2005 require updating to contemporary levels.

While the Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy 20212025 addresses air pollution from bushfires and wood heaters, there is no consideration of air pollution from other sources such as dust from land clearing and construction, and pollution from internal combustion engine vehicles. The ACT does have strategies and guidelines in place to manage pollution from these sources (the Environment Protection Guidelines for Construction and Land Development in the ACT and the ACT’s Zero Emissions Vehicles Strategy 2022–30 respectively) and it would be beneficial to integrate these into a holistic framework for air quality monitoring, reporting and management for the ACT.

The ACT Government has implemented a range of practical, fiscal and policy measures to improve transport effects on air quality. These include preferential pricing of vehicle charges to favour electric vehicles, investment in an electric vehicle fleet for ACT Government, and improvements to the cycling, bus and light rail networks. There appears to be scope for the ACT’s air quality strategy to consider further measures to specifically target air pollution from any new petrol and diesel vehicles, given the long fleet life cycle.