Air pollutants and sources

Air pollution can contain a mix of solid particles, liquid droplets and gases from a variety of sources including heavy industry, such as manufacturing and fossil fuel combustion, motor vehicles and heating appliances.

Air pollution can also be created by natural events such as bush fires, and can contain windblown dust, pollen and mould spores. 

Air pollution can vary greatly depending on the season, weather and the types and numbers of sources.

Pollutants we monitor

In keeping with legislative requirements, ACT Health monitors five air pollutants:

PM2.5

What is PM2.5?

Particulates, also known as particle pollution (or PM), are made up of a number of components including nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles. PM2.5, or 'fine particulate matter' are particles with diameters that are 2.5 micrometres (µm) or smaller and are commonly found in smoke and haze.  For comparison, the average human hair is about 70µm in diameter, which is 30 times larger than the PM2.5 particles measured in air quality monitoring networks.

What is the Australian Standard for PM2.5?

The Australian Standard for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, measured over a midnight-to-midnight 24 hour period. 

How is PM2.5 measured in Canberra?

PM2.5 is measured at the Florey, Civic and Monash stations. We use beta-attenuation monitors to measure PM2.5.

PM10

What is PM10?

Particulates, also known as particle pollution (or PM), are made up of a number of components including nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles. PM10, or ‘coarse particulate matter’, are particles with diameters that are 10 micrometres (µm) or smaller. PM10 is the main component in dust storms and commonly arises from vehicles on dirt roads and dusty industries, such as mining, crushing and grinding.

What is the Australian Standard for PM10?

The Australian Standard for PM10 is 50 micrograms per cubic metre, measured over a midnight-to-midnight 24 hour period.

How is PM10 measured in Canberra?

PM10 is measured at the Florey, Civic and Monash stations. We use beta-attenuation monitors to measure PM10.

Ozone

What is ozone?

Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (from industry, vehicles and vegetation) and oxides of nitrogen (from industry, vehicles and natural gas use) react in sunlight. These reactions only produce significant amounts of ozone on warm sunny days with light or recirculating winds. Ozone can also form downwind of bushfires when the chemicals in smoke react in the presence of sunlight. In the future, the higher temperatures predicted as a result of climate change are likely to lead to a greater potential for ozone formation.

What is the Australian Standard for ozone?

There are two standards for ozone. The standard for ozone over a 1 hour period is 0.12 parts per million. The standard for ozone over a 4 hour period is 0.08 parts per million.

How is ozone measured in Canberra?

Ozone is measured at the Florey, Civic and Monash stations. We use ultra-violet light analysers to measure ozone.

Nitrogen dioxide

What is nitrogen dioxide?

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas mainly produced from vehicle engine exhaust. NO2 is also produced by the burning of fuels such as natural gas and diesel.

What is the Australian Standard for nitrogen dioxide?

The Australian Standard for nitrogen dioxide over a 1 hour period is 0.10 parts per million.

What health information should I know about nitrogen dioxide?

NO2 is harmful to human health, especially for children, the elderly and those with asthma. Low levels of NO2 can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs of humans and animals.

How is nitrogen dioxide measured in Canberra?

Nitrogen dioxide is measured at the Florey and Monash stations. We use chemiluminescence analysers to measure nitrogen dioxide.

Carbon monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless odourless gas mainly produced from vehicle engine exhaust.

What is the Australian Standard for carbon monoxide?

The Australian Standard for carbon monoxide is 9 parts per million over an 8 hour period.

How is carbon monoxide measured in Canberra?

Carbon monoxide is measured at the Florey and Monash stations. We use infrared analysers to measure carbon monoxide.

Pollutants we do not monitor

Due to a lack of heavy industry, the ACT does not monitor sulphur dioxide.

The ACT also stopped monitoring lead in July 2002 following the phase out of leaded fuel on 1 January 2002.

Page last updated on: 29 Mar 2021