Victorian EPA slammed by Auditor-General over pollution monitoring

The Victorian Auditor-General has slammed the EPA for a string of failures in relation to air quality monitoring, with possible consequent impacts on the environment and human health.

In a scathing report, the Auditor-General found the EPA had failed to properly monitor air quality outside parts of the Port Phillip and Latrobe Valley regions and that the value of EPA's air quality reports was “considerably diminished because EPA has not been able to demonstrate that the air quality data it collects and reports on is also representative of those areas it does not monitor”.

“Contrary to the intent of its 2001 Ambient Air Quality NEPM Monitoring Plan Victoria (Monitoring Plan), EPA has failed to provide a better understanding of air quality outside the Port Phillip and Latrobe Valley regions. It has not updated nor adjusted the plan over the last 17 years to reflect the changing risk profiles that accompany both considerable population growth and changes in industrial activities across the state.

“In addition, while infrequent, we found some inaccurate assessments against PM air quality standards—all of which overstated air quality, and so serve to undermine confidence in publicly reported data.

“The roles and responsibilities of agencies that contribute to air quality management in the state also remain unclear and not well understood. Consequently, attempts to address air quality issues have not always been well coordinated and implemented.

“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."

The report recommended that the Environment Protection Authority:

  • expand its air monitoring network by reviewing and updating its current Monitoring Plan to reflect its risk based approach to environmental regulation ; designing and implementing an air monitoring program that better aligns coverage with air pollution risks that Victorian communities are exposed to;

  • improve its reporting on air quality by: introducing a rigorous quality review process to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the state's air quality data and assessments against NEPM AAQ standards as presented across its various reporting, including on its AirWatch website; and developing readable and easily accessible annual reports on the results collected from all air monitoring across the state, highlighting assessments against standards and recorded exceedances

  • expand and update its knowledge of Victoria's air quality by: completing a comprehensive Victorian air emissions inventory to identify current major point and diffuse sources of air pollution; and determining and preparing an action plan on how best to (1) oversight the air quality monitoring conducted by high-risk operators to ensure that monitoring plans are in place, and that these plans are appropriately implemented; and (2) understand and effectively respond to air emissions from lower risk sites;

  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of relevant Victorian Government agencies with respect to air quality management, and develop protocols to ensure accountabilities are understood and coordination is achieved.

The report, Improving Victoria's Air Quality, is available here.

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