NSW annual air quality statement 2020

Air quality in New South Wales met national standards between 85% and 99% of the time across regions, a significant improvement compared to 2019.

Purpose of the Statement

This Statement summarises the data collected from the New South Wales Air Quality Monitoring Network during 2020. It highlights air quality conditions at stations in metropolitan and regional centres as well as stations near industrial activities. Data are reported against national standards.

Stations in ‘metropolitan and regional centres’ include 3 stations near the Port of Newcastle – Carrington, Mayfield and Stockton – and 3 stations in larger population centres in the Upper Hunter - Aberdeen, Muswellbrook and Singleton (For more information see Defining the Network).

Focus areas provide more details on air quality close to industrial activities in the Hunter Valley and at Stockton at the Port of Newcastle. Data from stations near pollution sources are not intended for comparison with national standards – such comparisons are made available in this Statement due to public interest in these regions.

Focus areas also include a section illustrating the potential air quality impact of the COVID-19 pandemic-related social-economic restrictions in Sydney; and an outline of the NSW Government’s major achievements in air quality monitoring, forecasting and research during the year.

Special note


Focus areas

The 2020 Air Quality Statement has 4 focus areas:

  • Hunter Valley
  • Stockton
  • Air quality during COVID-19
  • Achievements in 2020

Find out more

  • New South Wales experienced significantly improved air quality in 2020, primarily due to the cooler, wetter weather and reduced impact from dust storms, bushfires or hazard reduction burns when compared to 2019.
  • The major air quality issue of the year was particle pollution in January to mid-February, associated with the impact of dust storms and the 2019–2020 summer bushfires (NSW Air Quality Special Statement 2019–2020).
  • Ozone levels decreased compared with the previous year, yet remained an air quality issue at some urban centres.
  • Levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide easily met national standards.

Air quality varied across NSW regions, meeting national standards on 99% of days during the year on the Mid-north Coast, down to 85% of days at the Port of Newcastle.

Air pollution levels (ozone and particles as PM10 and PM2.5, airborne particles less than or equal to 10 and 2.5 micrometres in diameter) exceeded national standards on 32% (118 days) of days in 2020 across the metropolitan and regional centres, compared to 57% (209 days) of days in 2019.

Daily average PM10 levels exceeded the national standard at one or more metropolitan and regional centres on 24% (87 days) of days in 2020, compared to 48% (175 days) of days in 2019.

Daily average PM2.5 levels exceeded the national standard at one or more metropolitan and regional centres on 16% (59 days) of days in 2020, compared to almost 38% (137 days) of days in 2019.

Ozone levels exceeded national standards at one or more metropolitan and regional centres on 6 days (2% of days) in 2020, compared to 33 days (9% of days) in 2019. All 6 days occurred in January–February 2020. Ozone levels at one or more stations in the Greater Metropolitan Region (Sydney, Lower Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra regions) exceeded the national standards on 4 days in 2020, compared with 29 days in 2019.

All regions experienced days with extreme air pollution in 2020, identified as days with particle pollution at levels more than twice the national standards. In 2020, there were 24 days with extreme air pollution levels at one or more monitoring stations in metropolitan or regional centres, mostly occurring in January and early February.

During 2020, days with extreme air pollution were attributed to the following sources.

  • 10 days due to smoke from bushfires (January and February)
  • 9 days due to a combination of smoke from bushfires and dust storms (January and February)
  • 4 days due to dust storms (January, February and August)
  • 1 day due to smoke from hazard reductions burns (September).

Annual average particle pollution levels decreased in 2020, compared to 2019:

  • Annual average PM10 levels met the national standard in metropolitan and regional centres, except for Stockton at the Port of Newcastle. Stockton recorded the highest PM10 annual average for 2020 with 34.5 µg/m3. In 2019, annual average PM10 levels exceeded the national standard in all regions in the State except the Central Coast, with the highest annual average recorded at Stockton with 43.6 µg/m3.
  • Annual average PM2.5 levels did not meet the national standard of 8 µg/m3 at 14 of 40 monitoring stations in 2020. The highest PM2.5 annual average was 11.8 µg/m3 at Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands. In 2019, 35 of 36 stations did not meet the national standard, with the highest annual average of 17.2 µg/m3 recorded at Armidale in the Northern Tablelands.

Air quality records in 2020

  • The highest daily PM2.5 level since 1994 (560 µg/m3, 22 times the standard) was recorded at Wagga Wagga North in the South-west Slopes on 5 January 2020, due to bushfire smoke.
  • The fourth highest PM10 pollution day since 1994 (621 µg/m3, 12 times the standard), and the highest daily average since 2009, was recorded at Merriwa in the Upper Hunter region on 11 January 2020 during a widespread dust storm.

Note: Air quality records refer to the period from 1994, marking the expansion of continuous air quality monitoring across New South Wales.

Defining the network

The NSW air quality monitoring network in 2020 comprised over 90 air quality monitoring stations. Over 50 stations used compliance methods to monitor air quality in areas of the State’s highest populations, as well near industrial activities in the Upper Hunter and the Port of Newcastle, and at sites with special interest or research purposes. Over 35 stations, supported by the rural communities, used indicative instrumentation methods to monitor particles across the NSW rural air quality monitoring network.

Hourly updated data from the NSW Air Quality Monitoring Network is available at the links below.

More information is available in regular publications on our website.

Air quality monitoring reports, including seasonal newsletters for the Upper and Lower Hunter and North-west Slopes regions, monthly DustWatch reports and annual NSW air quality compliance reports.