Illawarra air quality

Illawarra map

The Illawarra is home to about 300,000 people living in the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama local government areas. The region occupies a relatively narrow strip, bounded by the Illawarra escarpment to the west and the coastline between Garie Beach in the north and Gerroa in the south. Proximity to the coast and the Illawarra's terrain significantly influences local weather patterns and consequently air quality in the region.

Air quality monitoring

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) operates a comprehensive air quality monitoring network to provide the community with accurate and up-to-date information about air quality.

In the Illawarra, air quality monitoring is undertaken at Wollongong, Kembla Grange and Albion Park South. You can either view updated hourly air pollutant concentrations, Air Quality Index (AQI) values or search and download historical air quality data where you live. Air quality information for the Illawarra is also reported within annual air quality statements, with any exceedances of national air quality standards noted.

Air Quality Trends in the Illawarra

OEH has prepared a report titled Air Quality Trends in the Illawarra (PDF 4.6MB).

This report describes how air quality has changed in the Illawarra over the past two decades. It draws on data from OEH's air quality monitoring network, emission inventories, air quality modelling and particle speciation studies. It also describes the local airshed and identifies areas of future research to expand our understanding of air pollution and its impacts.

What did the report find?

Air quality in the Illawarra is similar to other Australian cities and is generally good by international standards. Over the past five years (2010-2014) air quality in the Illawarra was 'very good or good' for 78 per cent to 85 per cent of the time, 'fair' for 13 per cent to 20 per cent of the time, and 'poor or worse' for one per cent to seven per cent of the time. Information about how these Air Quality Index categories correspond to different levels of health risk is available from NSW Health.

Poor air quality generally occurs as a result of high levels of particle or ozone pollution. Years affected by bushfires, dust storms and high temperatures usually have the greatest number of 'poor or worse' air quality days.

Air quality in the Illawarra has been generally improving over time. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead levels have decreased since the 1990s and are all consistently below national standards. However, particle (PM10 and PM2.5) and ozone levels can exceed national standards from time-to-time, posing health risks. Particle and ozone levels vary from year to year, often higher in hotter, drier years. Health effects from particle and ozone pollution are known to occur at levels below the current national standards, so continued efforts to reduce air pollutants will provide additional health benefits.

Air quality in the Illawarra is affected by sources in the region as well as sources outside the region. High ozone levels can occur due to the combined effect of local emission sources and air pollutants transported by wind down the coast from Sydney. Bushfires outside the region can contribute to high ozone and particle levels, as occurred in the October 2013 bushfires. Regional dust storms are responsible for some of the highest peaks in particle pollution, as occurred in the September 2009 dust storm which affected much of New South Wales.

Major sources of air pollution in the Illawarra include EPA-licensed industry, household activities (notably residential wood heating), commercial businesses, road transport, non-road equipment and transport (construction and mining equipment, rail locomotives and ships), and natural sources (such as emissions from forested areas, bushfire smoke and wind-blown dust from exposed areas). You can learn more about sources of air pollution in the Illawarra by using the EPA Air Emissions in My Community web tool.

Future air quality in the Illawarra will be affected by population growth, changes in transport and industrial activity levels, and changes in climate.

You can find out more about initiatives to improve air quality at EPA initiatives.

Page last updated: 25 November 2015