Standards and goals for measuring air pollution

Setting air quality standards and goals are essential for protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of air pollution.

High concentrations of the major air pollutants are associated with respiratory problems such as coughs, bronchitis, asthma and, in severe cases, developmental problems in children, and even death. 

The National Environment Protection Measure for Ambient Air (Air NEPM) sets national standards for the six key air pollutants to which most Australians are exposed: carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and particles.

Standards refer to maximum concentrations of the pollutants set by Air NEPM. Goals refer to allowable exceedances of these maximum concentrations during a year. Find out what these goals and standards are in the table below.

Standards/goals for AQI

Pollutant

Averaging period

Maximum concentration or standard

Goal (maximum allowable exceedences)

Carbon monoxide

8 hours

9.0 ppm

1 day a year

Nitrogen dioxide

1 hour

1 year

0.12 ppm

0.03 ppm

1 day a year

none 

Ozone 

1 hour
4 hours

0.10 ppm
0.08 ppm

1 day a year

1 day a year

Sulfur dioxide

1 hour

1 day

1 year

0.20 ppm

0.08 ppm

0.02 ppm

1 day a year

1 day a year

None

PM10

1 day

1 year

50 µg/m3

25 µg/m3

None

None

 PM2.5

1 day

1 year

25 µg/m3

8 µg/m3

None

None

Visibility (as bsp)

1 hour

2.1 x 10-4 m-1 (210 Mm-1)

Not applicable

Notes

 ppm
 =  parts per million by volume (that is, parts of pollutant per million parts of air)
 PM10
 =  particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter
 PM2.5
 =  particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter
 µg/m3
 =  micrograms per cubic metre
 bsp
= back scattering potential, which represents the coefficient of light scattering due to particles. The lower the bsp value, the lower the level of suspended particles and the better the visibility. The NSW OEH standard of 2.1 x 10-4 m-1 or 210 Mm-1 (inverse megametres) corresponds to a visual distance of approximately 9 kilometres.