Brooklyn bites the dust: 30 breaches of air quality standard in two weeks

Local residents in Spotswood, South Kingsville, Altona North and Brooklyn have reported air quality issues to local and state authorities this year, with dust contributing to much of the dirty talk across Hobsons Bay.

Earlier in March this year, there were at least 30 breaches of the air quality standard in Brooklyn recorded over a two-week period, with PM10 particle pollution identified as the persistent pollutant in the air.

Common sources of PM10 particles include sea salt, pollen and combustion activities such as motor vehicles and industrial processes. Dust from unsealed roads is also a major source of PM10 particles and are of concern to the community.

Peaks of PM10 are often associated with localised dust pollution from construction site activities such as crushing, digging, truck and earth moving machinery, traffic on unsealed roads and traffic from unsealed carparks.

Dust pollution reportedly emanating from the Precinct 15 development site has resulted in numerous complaints to both Hobsons Bay City Council and Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) this year.

South Kingsville resident Elisa Cirene told Willy and Hobby that local developments bring exciting opportunities but are not without their challenges, with local residents currently facing the increased exposure to construction dust.

“There is a film of thick dust across the neighbourhood – you can see it clearly on window sills, cars and outdoor furniture. People have been commenting about having sore throats that don’t get better,” Ms Cirene said.

“The developers are using water to suppress some of the dust, but the volume and frequency obviously isn’t enough given the sheer size of the development. We know that breathing in dust has a detrimental impact to our respiratory and cardiovascular system.”

“This project is going to take years to complete so we need the developers to urgently ramp up their methods to reduce dust, whether it’s covering stockpiles or installing higher and thicker dust screens across the site to minimise health impacts to residents.”

The health effects of PM10 particles can be many and varied. High levels can irritate the eyes and throat. People with existing heart or lung conditions can also experience an increase in symptoms, including wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing.

Willy and Hobby understands that the air quality in Brooklyn does not meet Australia’s national air quality standards, with the emission of PM10 exceeding standards set by the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM).

Air monitoring stations were originally set up in response to community concerns about dust and PM10. EPA Metropolitan Region Manager Daniel Hunt said the authority maintains its commitment to the community for continued monitoring in the area.

“EPA have received three pollution reports about dust from the Hobsons Bay Council municipality this year. Two of the reports received cited Precinct 15 as the potential source. EPA conducted an inspection of the site on Wednesday April 24,” Mr Hunt said.

“The Precinct 15 development is subject to building and planning permits issued and enforced by the Hobsons Bay City Council. These permits regulate the construction activities of the development to protect the amenity of the surrounding area.”

“The development is also subject to the State Environment Protection Policy (Air Quality Management). The EPA has a suite of enforcement and clean up orders, and financial sanctions to issue when warranted.”

Whilst noting that construction site activities are usually regulated under council permits, Mr Hunt confirmed the environment watchdog regularly refers activities of interest to local councils.

“Hobsons Bay City Council can also rely on EPA powers and expertise if needed through our Officers for the Protection of the Local Environment (OPLE) program, which has an EPA officer based at Council offices,” Mr Hunt said.

“This program allows EPA and Council to swiftly respond to local reports of dust, noise, odour, waste dumping and other kinds of pollution. The EPA Officer based at council offices works closely with Council on pollution issues within the municipality.”

Hobsons Bay City Council recently responded to questions about dust with a commitment to explore ‘more frequent street sweeping’ in affected areas. It points to the EPA as ‘the responsible authority’ for the enforcement of compliance with relevant regulations.

“Council is monitoring the works being undertaken at Precinct 15. All planning permits come with the condition that the owner or builder of any development are obliged to not adversely affect the amenity of the area by the emissions of offsite dust,” Council said.

“We have added the requirement of truck cleaning measures to our planning permits for trucks and heavy vehicles entering and exiting the precinct and have also increased our street sweeping in the area to help minimise air borne dust particles.”

“Council has been working with the EPA to minimise dust in the area, including joint inspections on site. Council undertook a joint inspection with the EPA in February 2019. Any pollution abatement or remedial notices would be issued by the EPA.”

Willy and Hobby understands that the EPA is currently preparing for new legislation to take effect in 2020 which is anticipated to give it a stronger focus on prevention and substantially increase potential penalties.

The legislation introduces a criminally enforceable general environmental duty, a responsibility for anyone whose activities may involve pollution to take reasonable steps to eliminate risk to human health and the environment.

The preparation of the new legislation follows Victoria’s first ever air quality summit where addressing the air quality issues impacting the inner west was highlighted throughout several submissions to the government.

The air quality summit saw community members, interest groups, industry, local government and air quality specialists gather to add their suggestions about improving the state’s air quality.

The release of Victoria’s air quality statement was part of the Government’s community consultation on its air quality strategy, which will be released in mid to late 2019 and is said to provide clear policies and programs to support clean air in Victoria through to 2030.

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