Air quality in three Melbourne suburbs could have long-term impacts that are far worse than the coronavirus.
A report released this month from the Inner West Air Quality Group detailed a “widespread and alarming problem in the inner west”, particularly in Maribrynong, Brimbank and Hobsons Bay.
The report said an increasing number of trucks were moving through residential streets and past schools, kindergartens, aged-care facilities, shops and recreational areas in Melbourne’s inner west every day.
There are concerns many of the trucks are older and therefore causing more air pollution. There are also fears about the impact of the opening of the West Gate Tunnel with construction causing an increase in dust particles and an expected increase in traffic when opened.
“The opening of the West Gate Tunnel will result in increased traffic along the tunnel’s feeder roads, and truck traffic associated with the expansion of the Port of Melbourne is forecast to grow from about 11,000 trips each weekday in 2016 to 34,000 in 2050,” the report said.
Yarraville and Brooklyn are two air pollution “hot spots” that rank the seventh and eighth worse in Australia for air pollution concentrations, and according to the report, poor air quality poses serious risks to our health.
“It leads to around 4880 premature deaths in Australia each year. This is more than four times the number of lives lost on Australia’s roads in 2019,” the report said.
“Poor air quality damages respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and is associated with diabetes, cognitive decline and dementia, inflammatory bowel disease, brain tumours and mental health problems.
“Pollutants such as diesel exhaust emissions are known to be carcinogenic; science is also showing that adverse health effects can occur at lower levels of concentration than previously thought and even short-term exposure can aggravate exisiting heart and lung conditions.”
Air pollution could be ‘worse than COVID’
With people living or working in the inner west experiencing health problems as a result of air pollution at a higher rate than the average Australian, Peter Wingate, who is running for a seat on the Maribyrnong Council, said a real-time air quality monitor was needed so people could measure the risks before leaving home.
“We desperately need air quality monitoring. They have little monitors all over the place in the Latrobe Valley and it’s linked directly online so people in the area can go online and check what the air quality is right now,” Mr Wingate told the Maribyrnong Leader.
“Yarraville is slowly coming to terms with the fact we’re stuck right in the middle of this dangerous industrial area. We’ve also got this Westgate Tunnel going underneath us and that has to vent somewhere.
“It is invisible in terms of the health effects of air pollution, it builds up over years … the long-term impacts of this will be worse for the inner west or Yarraville than COVID.”
The report says the Environment Protection Agency operates three air quality monitoring stations in the inner west, however they are situated away from where pollution levels are likely to be at their highest, for example near major roads.
‘Concerning’ graph reveals health problems
A graph in the report shows hospitalisation rates in Yarraville, Maribyrnong and Brimbank are at alarmingly higher rates than the Australian average.
Hospital admissions for heart failure in Maribyrnong is 60 per cent higher than the Australian average, while the admission for stroke is 40 per cent higher.
Hospital admissions for asthma is about 40 per cent higher in both Maribyrnong and Brimbank, and about 20 per cent higher in Hobsons Bay.
Premature mortality by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was more than 40 per cent the Australian average in Maribyrnong.
“The results are concerning. They show that the inner west experiences many health problems at a higher rate than the Australian average,” the report states.
“Maribyrnong and Hobsons Bay, in particular, have rates of hospitalisation substantially higher than national averages for many diseases strongly linked to air pollution.
“This variation cannot be readily explained by factors such as socio-economic status, smoking rates of age profiles.”
The Inner West Air Quality Group report made 26 recommendations for the state government to action, including four in relation to improving the monitoring of and reporting on air quality and increasing community awareness.
Six were made in relation to reducing transport emissions.
The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has committed to removing 28,000 truck trips from Victoria roads each year and claims the West Gate Tunnel Project will take 9000 trucks off local roads in the inner west while enabling 24/7 truck bans on six local roads.
“We set up the Inner West Air Quality community reference group to ensure the voice of the local community is at the heart of the way we address air quality,” a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
“This report is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group and the government will consider the report’s recommendations carefully before responding.”
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