Informed, engaged communities for health

Search
Generic filters
Filter by Categories
@WePublicHealth2021
#CroakeyLIVE #Budget2021Health
#MHReform
#OutOfTheBox
#QldVotesHealth
#RCIADIC30Years
#RuralHealthJustice
#ShiftingGearsSummit
#TRIPSwaiver
2021 Floods
Budget2020Health
Bushfires
codesign
community control
COVID-19
Croakey Conference News Service
#2020ResearchExcellence
#21OPCC
#BackToTheFire
#FoodGovernance2021
#GiantSteps21
#Govern4Health
#HealthClimateSolutions21
#HealthReImagined
#HearMe21
#IndigenousClimateJustice21
#NNF2021
#RANZCP2021
#SAHeapsUnfair
#ValueBasedCare
#WCepi2021
#YHFSummit
Croakey Professional Services
#AKctionKidneyCare
#BetterCareCOVID
#CommunityControl
#COVIDthinktank21
#KidneyCareTogether
ACSQHC series
Lowitja Indigenous knowledge translation series
Croakey projects
@WePublicHealth
@WePublicHealth2020
#CommunityMatters
#CoveringClimateNow
#CroakeyLIVE #USvotesHealth
#CroakeyREAD
#CroakeyVOICES
#CroakeyYOUTH
#HealthyCOP26
#HousingJusticeAus
#JusticeCOVID
#LookingLocal
#MRFFtransparency
#OutOfPocket
#TalkingTeeth
AroundTheTraps
Caring for the Frontline
COVID SNAPS
COVIDglobalMHseries
Croakey longreads
CroakeyEXPLORE
Gavin Mooney
Inside Story
Journal Watch
PIJ Commissions 2020
Summer Reading 2019-2020
The Conversation
The Health Wrap
TOO MUCH of a Good Thing
CroakeyGO
#CroakeyGO #NavigatingHealth
#GamblingHarms
#HeatwaveHealth
Mapping CroakeyGo
CroakeyNews
Cultural determinants of health
Digital platforms
Elections and budgets
Federal Budget 2019-20
Federal Budget 2020-21
Federal Election 2022
Federal Budget 2021-22
Global health and climate change
2019-20 climate bushfire emergency
asylum seeker and refugee health
Climate emergency
disasters
Ebola
extreme weather events
flooding 2011
global health
NHS
NZ Election 2017
WHO
health
Health workers
Healthcare and health reform
abortion
adverse events
aged care
allied health care
Australian Medical Association
cancer
cardiovascular disease
child health
Choosing Wisely
chronic diseases
co-payments
Cochrane Collaboration
complementary medicines
conflicts of interest
death and dying
diabetes
digital technology
disabilities
e-health
emergency departments and care
Equally Well
euthanasia
evidence-based issues
general practice
genetics
health & medical marketing
health and medical education
health and medical research
Health Care Homes
health ethics
health financing and costs
health reform
health regulation
health workforce
HIV/AIDS
hospitals
HRT
infectious diseases
influenza
international medical graduates
journal articles
LGBTIQ
medical marijuana
Medicare Locals
men's health
mental health
MyHospitals website
National Commission of Audit 2014
National Health Performance Authority
naturopathy
NDIS
NHMRC
non communicable diseases
nurses and nursing
oral health
organ transplants
out of pocket costs
pain
palliative care
paramedics
pathology
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
pharmaceutical industry
pharmacy
Pregnancy and childbirth
primary health care
Primary Health Networks
private health insurance
quality and safety of health care
rural and remote health
screening
sexual health
social media and healthcare
suicide
surgery
swine flu
telehealth
tests
TGA
trauma
women's health
youth health
Indigenous health
#CTG10
#NTRC
Acknowledgement
cultural safety
Indigenous education
Lowitja Institute
NT Intervention
social and emotional wellbeing
Uluru Statement
WA community closures
News about Croakey
PIJ Commissions 2021
Public health and population health
#PreventiveHealthStrategy
#UnmetNeedsinPublicHealth
air pollution
alcohol
consumer health matters
COVIDwrap
environmental health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
food and nutrition
gambling
Government 2.0
gun control
health communications
health impact assessment
Health in All Policies
health inequalities
health literacy
human rights
illicit drugs
injuries
legal issues
marriage equality
Media Doctor Australia
media-related issues
nanny state
National Preventive Health Agency
obesity
occupational health
physical activity
plain packaging
prevention
public health
public interest journalism
road safety
sport
sugar tax
tobacco control
transport
vaccination
violence
Web 2.0
weight loss products
Royal Commission
Social determinants of health
discrimination
education
housing
justice
Justice Reinvestment
NBN
Newstart
poverty
racism
social policy
Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
#6rrhss
#ACEM18
#AHPA2018
#ATSISPC18
#CPHCE
#MHED18
#NDISMentalHealth
#Nurseforce
#OKToAsk2018
#RANZCOG18
#ResearchIntoPolicy
#VHAawards
#VMIACAwards18
#WISPC18
2019 Conferences
#ACEM19
#CPHCE19
#EquallyWellAust
#GiantSteps19
#HealthAdvocacyWIM
#KTthatWorks
#LowitjaConf2019
#MHAgeing
#NNF2019
#OKtoAsk2019
#RANZCOG19
#RANZCP2019
#ruralhealthconf
#VMIAC2019
#WHOcollabAHPRA
Croakey Professional Services archive
#bettercareseries
#CommunityControl Twitter Festival
ACSQHC series 2019
Croakey projects archive
#IndigenousHealthSummit
#IndigenousNCDs
#JustClimate
#JustJustice
Croakey register of influence
Croakey Register of Influencers in Public Health
Croakey Register of Unreleased Documents
Naked Doctor
Poems of Public Health
Summer Reading 2016-2017
Summer Reading 2017-2018
The Koori Woman
Wonky Health
CroakeyGO archive 2017 – 2018
CroakeyGo 2017
#CroakeyGO Adelaide 2017
#CroakeyGO Melbourne 2017
#CroakeyGO Newcastle 2017
#CroakeyGO Sydney 2017
CroakeyGo 2018
#CroakeyGO #QuantumWords 2018
#CroakeyGO #VicVotes 2018
#CroakeyGO Albury 2018
#CroakeyGO Callan Park 2018
#CroakeyGO Carnarvon 2018
#CroakeyGO Marrickville 2018
#CroakeyGO Palm Island 2018
Elections and Budgets 2013 – 2019
#AusVotesHealth Twitter Festival 2019
#Health4NSW
#HealthElection16
Federal Budget 2009-2010
Federal Budget 2010
Federal Budget 2011
Federal Budget 2012-2013
Federal Budget 2013-14
Federal Budget 2014-15
Federal Budget 2015-16
Federal Budget 2016-17
Federal Budget 2017/18
Federal Budget 2018-19
Federal Election 2010
Federal Election 2013
Federal Election 2016
Federal Election 2019
NSW Election 2015
NSW Election 2019
NT Election 2016
Qld Election 2015
Victorian Election 2014
WA election 2021
Support non-profit public interest journalism
Search
Generic filters
Filter by Categories
@WePublicHealth2021
#CroakeyLIVE #Budget2021Health
#MHReform
#OutOfTheBox
#QldVotesHealth
#RCIADIC30Years
#RuralHealthJustice
#ShiftingGearsSummit
#TRIPSwaiver
2021 Floods
Budget2020Health
Bushfires
codesign
community control
COVID-19
Croakey Conference News Service
#2020ResearchExcellence
#21OPCC
#BackToTheFire
#FoodGovernance2021
#GiantSteps21
#Govern4Health
#HealthClimateSolutions21
#HealthReImagined
#HearMe21
#IndigenousClimateJustice21
#NNF2021
#RANZCP2021
#SAHeapsUnfair
#ValueBasedCare
#WCepi2021
#YHFSummit
Croakey Professional Services
#AKctionKidneyCare
#BetterCareCOVID
#CommunityControl
#COVIDthinktank21
#KidneyCareTogether
ACSQHC series
Lowitja Indigenous knowledge translation series
Croakey projects
@WePublicHealth
@WePublicHealth2020
#CommunityMatters
#CoveringClimateNow
#CroakeyLIVE #USvotesHealth
#CroakeyREAD
#CroakeyVOICES
#CroakeyYOUTH
#HealthyCOP26
#HousingJusticeAus
#JusticeCOVID
#LookingLocal
#MRFFtransparency
#OutOfPocket
#TalkingTeeth
AroundTheTraps
Caring for the Frontline
COVID SNAPS
COVIDglobalMHseries
Croakey longreads
CroakeyEXPLORE
Gavin Mooney
Inside Story
Journal Watch
PIJ Commissions 2020
Summer Reading 2019-2020
The Conversation
The Health Wrap
TOO MUCH of a Good Thing
CroakeyGO
#CroakeyGO #NavigatingHealth
#GamblingHarms
#HeatwaveHealth
Mapping CroakeyGo
CroakeyNews
Cultural determinants of health
Digital platforms
Elections and budgets
Federal Budget 2019-20
Federal Budget 2020-21
Federal Election 2022
Federal Budget 2021-22
Global health and climate change
2019-20 climate bushfire emergency
asylum seeker and refugee health
Climate emergency
disasters
Ebola
extreme weather events
flooding 2011
global health
NHS
NZ Election 2017
WHO
health
Health workers
Healthcare and health reform
abortion
adverse events
aged care
allied health care
Australian Medical Association
cancer
cardiovascular disease
child health
Choosing Wisely
chronic diseases
co-payments
Cochrane Collaboration
complementary medicines
conflicts of interest
death and dying
diabetes
digital technology
disabilities
e-health
emergency departments and care
Equally Well
euthanasia
evidence-based issues
general practice
genetics
health & medical marketing
health and medical education
health and medical research
Health Care Homes
health ethics
health financing and costs
health reform
health regulation
health workforce
HIV/AIDS
hospitals
HRT
infectious diseases
influenza
international medical graduates
journal articles
LGBTIQ
medical marijuana
Medicare Locals
men's health
mental health
MyHospitals website
National Commission of Audit 2014
National Health Performance Authority
naturopathy
NDIS
NHMRC
non communicable diseases
nurses and nursing
oral health
organ transplants
out of pocket costs
pain
palliative care
paramedics
pathology
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
pharmaceutical industry
pharmacy
Pregnancy and childbirth
primary health care
Primary Health Networks
private health insurance
quality and safety of health care
rural and remote health
screening
sexual health
social media and healthcare
suicide
surgery
swine flu
telehealth
tests
TGA
trauma
women's health
youth health
Indigenous health
#CTG10
#NTRC
Acknowledgement
cultural safety
Indigenous education
Lowitja Institute
NT Intervention
social and emotional wellbeing
Uluru Statement
WA community closures
News about Croakey
PIJ Commissions 2021
Public health and population health
#PreventiveHealthStrategy
#UnmetNeedsinPublicHealth
air pollution
alcohol
consumer health matters
COVIDwrap
environmental health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
food and nutrition
gambling
Government 2.0
gun control
health communications
health impact assessment
Health in All Policies
health inequalities
health literacy
human rights
illicit drugs
injuries
legal issues
marriage equality
Media Doctor Australia
media-related issues
nanny state
National Preventive Health Agency
obesity
occupational health
physical activity
plain packaging
prevention
public health
public interest journalism
road safety
sport
sugar tax
tobacco control
transport
vaccination
violence
Web 2.0
weight loss products
Royal Commission
Social determinants of health
discrimination
education
housing
justice
Justice Reinvestment
NBN
Newstart
poverty
racism
social policy
Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
#6rrhss
#ACEM18
#AHPA2018
#ATSISPC18
#CPHCE
#MHED18
#NDISMentalHealth
#Nurseforce
#OKToAsk2018
#RANZCOG18
#ResearchIntoPolicy
#VHAawards
#VMIACAwards18
#WISPC18
2019 Conferences
#ACEM19
#CPHCE19
#EquallyWellAust
#GiantSteps19
#HealthAdvocacyWIM
#KTthatWorks
#LowitjaConf2019
#MHAgeing
#NNF2019
#OKtoAsk2019
#RANZCOG19
#RANZCP2019
#ruralhealthconf
#VMIAC2019
#WHOcollabAHPRA
Croakey Professional Services archive
#bettercareseries
#CommunityControl Twitter Festival
ACSQHC series 2019
Croakey projects archive
#IndigenousHealthSummit
#IndigenousNCDs
#JustClimate
#JustJustice
Croakey register of influence
Croakey Register of Influencers in Public Health
Croakey Register of Unreleased Documents
Naked Doctor
Poems of Public Health
Summer Reading 2016-2017
Summer Reading 2017-2018
The Koori Woman
Wonky Health
CroakeyGO archive 2017 – 2018
CroakeyGo 2017
#CroakeyGO Adelaide 2017
#CroakeyGO Melbourne 2017
#CroakeyGO Newcastle 2017
#CroakeyGO Sydney 2017
CroakeyGo 2018
#CroakeyGO #QuantumWords 2018
#CroakeyGO #VicVotes 2018
#CroakeyGO Albury 2018
#CroakeyGO Callan Park 2018
#CroakeyGO Carnarvon 2018
#CroakeyGO Marrickville 2018
#CroakeyGO Palm Island 2018
Elections and Budgets 2013 – 2019
#AusVotesHealth Twitter Festival 2019
#Health4NSW
#HealthElection16
Federal Budget 2009-2010
Federal Budget 2010
Federal Budget 2011
Federal Budget 2012-2013
Federal Budget 2013-14
Federal Budget 2014-15
Federal Budget 2015-16
Federal Budget 2016-17
Federal Budget 2017/18
Federal Budget 2018-19
Federal Election 2010
Federal Election 2013
Federal Election 2016
Federal Election 2019
NSW Election 2015
NSW Election 2019
NT Election 2016
Qld Election 2015
Victorian Election 2014
WA election 2021

Fuels Paradise: the health impact of Australia’s poor fuel quality standards

Introduction by Croakey: Air pollution caused by vehicle emissions kills more Australians every year than motor vehicle accidents. Despite this significant toll, successive governments have failed to take action to improve our fuel quality, a key factor contributing to toxic air pollution.

This missed opportunity and its implications for our ability to address other major health threats, such as climate change, is discussed by Jennifer Doggett in the article below, first published by Inside Story.


Jennifer Doggett writes:

The Global Burden of Disease Study calls air pollution the world’s greatest environmental health risk. It causes around 5000 premature deaths in Australia each year by increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer and other diseases.

Yet successive governments have failed to lift standards for petrol quality, a key contributing factor to air pollution. In fact, the petrol most Australians use to fill their cars (known as 91 RON) is so poor in quality that it would be illegal in almost any other developed country.

Australia’s poor fuel quality

Global consultancy Stratas Advisors recently ranked Australia’s fuel quality as eighty-fifth in the world — between Argentina’s and Tanzania’s — on the basis of its high proportion of sulphur, a key health and environmental toxin.

This is a worse ranking than all European countries, the United States, Canada, Japan, China and India, and most other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, New Caledonia, Fiji and New Zealand.

Australia’s poor fuel is well known internationally and recently became an issue in negotiations over the EU–Australia free trade agreement. Some car manufacturers refuse to supply certain of their new models to Australia or to downgrade the engines of cars designed for the cleaner fuel available in Europe, because of the risk of damage from our low-quality petrol.

And yet, when the regulations in the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000were reviewed in 2019, the federal government ignored calls from health experts and organisations to bring Australia’s fuel standards into line with best overseas practice. Expert advice was trumped by opposition from Caltex, Mobil, Viva Energy and BP, the oil companies that make up Australia’s domestic oil refining sector.

Alarming findings

The Global Burden of Disease Study says that one of its “most alarming” findings is that “about a third of the burden of stroke is attributable to air pollution.” Air pollution is known to damage the lungs, heart and brain, it says, but “the extent of this threat seems to have been underestimated.”

Australian-based research, including the landmark Australian Child Health and Air Pollution Study, has demonstrated that even low levels of exposure to air pollution can increase the severity of asthma among children.

A study recently published in the European Respiratory Journal found that Australians aged forty-five to fifty who live less than 200 metres from a major road have a 50 per cent higher risk of asthma, wheeze and lowered lung function over a five-year period than those who live further from a major road.

Lung cancer is another well-documented effect of air pollution. But newer research has demonstrated causal links between air pollution and other forms of cancer, such as pancreatic, colorectal and bladder, as well as increased mortality from all cancers. Emerging research is also demonstrating a link between air pollution and obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, allergic reactions and ADHD.

Other serious impacts

Perhaps the most serious impact of air pollution is on the brain and respiratory-system development of babies in utero. The link between premature birth and air pollution has been known for some time, but reports of a dramatic drop in pre-term births during the Covid-19 pandemic have led some researchers to speculate that reduced exposure to air pollution may be part of the reason.

Evidence even suggests that exposure to air pollution can cause DNA changes that can then be passed on to future generations.

Despite all this evidence, public awareness of the dangers of air pollution remains low. This partly reflects the fact that the harms of air pollution can be difficult to spot at the individual level. Like smoking, air pollution increases an individual’s risk of serious conditions. Identifying the population-wide harms of air pollution means extrapolating data from large-scale epidemiological studies that clearly demonstrate the link between air pollution and serious health conditions.

Costs of air pollution

Using 2017 data, the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub and the Melbourne Energy Institute put the Australian health costs of air pollution each year at $17.8 billion, with an additional $4.5 billion in “welfare losses and foregone labour output.” On those figures, air pollution’s health costs are greater than those of obesity ($11.8 billion in 2017–18) and close to those of smoking ($19.2 billion in 2015–16).

Not only are motor vehicles Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, they also have a greater direct impact on health than the same level of emissions from other sources — factories, for example — because of higher levels of exposure in the population.

According to the State of Global Air report, the small particulate matter (PM2.5) produced by vehicle emissions was responsible for an estimated 1715 premature deaths in Australia in 2015, more than the annual road toll. (Other harmful components of vehicle emissions are not included in this figure, and nor are coal-fired power stations, factories, wood-burning heaters and other causes of air pollution.)

The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that reducing toxic materials in vehicle emissions could cut premature deaths by around 75 per cent.

Harms of sulphur

Sulphur in fuel increases the production of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. It also creates harmful small particulate matter that can be inhaled and can enter the bloodstream.

Fuels high in sulphur also prevent the effective operation of emissions control technology, such as particulate filters, which is why car manufacturers including Volkswagen (anxious to regain its reputation after an earlier fuel scandal) will not sell their most eco-friendly cars in Australia.

Clare Walter, a PhD candidate researching air pollution and policy at the University of Queensland, says the move to low-sulphur fuel would have the dual benefit of supporting the uptake of vehicles with the most advanced emission controls while reducing toxic emissions from Australia’s current fleet.

“Our current standards are in line with those introduced in Europe in 2009 — they are known as Euro 5,” Walter tells me. “Australia did not mandate these standards until 2016, by which time Europe had moved onto more stringent standards, Euro 6.”

Why that laggard status has persisted is a case study in how clear medical evidence can be outweighed by well-organised and well-resourced industry lobbying. Despite extensive evidence of the harms of air pollution, a five-year government review into Australia’s fuel standards concluded in 2018 by recommending no changes to fuel quality until 2027.

Policy options

The process began with the release of a discussion paper on vehicle emissions in December 2016, by the then environment minister (now health minister) Greg Hunt. “Around 17 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transport,” he said bluntly.

“In cities such as Sydney on-road motor vehicles can contribute around 60 per cent of some noxious air pollutants.” The following year, his successor as environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, declared that “Australia’s petrol quality is the lowest in the OECD or seventieth in the world.”

Hunt’s discussion paper contained five options:

  1. No change in Australia’s fuel standards (maximum allowable sulphur content in standard petrol remains 150 parts per million, or ppm).
  2. Harmonisation with European standards within two to five years (low grade petrol phased out, maximum sulphur in premium unleaded petrol limited to 10 ppm).
  3. As with option B, but low-grade petrol retained (maximum allowable sulphur content 10 ppm)
  4. Harmonisation with the (stricter than Europe) standards recommended by the Worldwide Fuel Charter (maximum allowable sulphur content 10 ppm)
  5. A gradual improvement in quality standards from 2020 with a review in 2022 (maximum allowable sulphur content for standard petrol 50 ppm) heavily favouring a reduction in sulphur levels to 10 ppm, the maximum allowed in most other developed countries.

Submissions from health and environmental groups strongly supported the options that would bring Australia’s fuel standards in line with Europe, most other developed countries, and even the United States — option B or, failing that, D.

But the government’s subsequent draft regulation impact statement added a sixth option suggested by the downstream petroleum sector, represented by the Australian Institute of Petroleum, which involved no action on sulphur until 2027.

The institute argued that the refining industry would need to invest around $979 million, “which may threaten the economic viability of the remaining refineries in Australia,” and stressed that the price of petrol could rise as a consequence — two possibilities that no doubt influenced government decision-making.

Challenging the oil industry

Robyn Schofield from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne is one who challenges the institute’s argument. All the Australian refiners are multinational and operate in jurisdictions requiring a maximum 10 ppm of sulphur, she says. There is no reason they can’t bring the same technology to Australia.

Schofield also argues that the cost of upgrading refineries is outweighed many times over by the health costs associated with increased mortality and morbidity caused by poor fuel quality. If the government is concerned about potential petrol price rises it could fund the upgrade itself, she says, out of the $6 billion per year collected in petrol excise, for example.

The cost-effectiveness of such a move would be incontrovertible given that the cost of the $979 million upgrade would be significantly lower than the $17.8 billion in annual health costs associated with vehicle emissions.

The Institute of Petroleum also argues that the generally good quality of Australia’s air undermines the case for improving fuel standards. Not so, responds Clare Walter. “Average” measures of air quality are not an accurate representation of the risks of exposure to pollution in specific locations and among specific populations.

“The air-quality models used in the government’s analysis were designed to reflect regional air quality rather than roadside air-quality conditions,” she says. “Yet much of our population lives in big cities and spends a considerable amount of time exposed to roadside pollution.”

We also need to recognise exposure among people at higher risk from air pollution, such as young children, people with respiratory conditions and the elderly, says Walter. She also questions the validity of calculating health risks based on international epidemiological studies that use finer-grained data from overseas.

Health groups contend that the calculations used by the government in assessing the cost-effectiveness of different policy options fail to take account of Australia’s underlying population health. Asthma and allergies are more prevalent here than in the United Sates and EU countries, for example, making our population more vulnerable to air pollution.

Lack of health sector representation

None of these or other points made by health organisations appear to have been considered by the government. Health groups and experts were limited to providing written submissions to the regulatory review process, and were then largely ignored.

The review’s “stakeholder forums” and face-to-face meetings almost exclusively involved industry representatives and were dominated by the Australian Institute of Petroleum. Even high-profile government-funded organisations — the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes consortium, the Clean Air Society of Australia and New Zealand, the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research, or CAR, and peak bodies in air, energy and health research — were excluded from full participation.

The experience of Graeme Zosky, an expert on the health impacts of air pollution who was the lead author of CAR’s submission, was typical. As deputy director of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and a professor of physiology at the Tasmanian School of Medicine, he recalls being contacted by a consultant for input on the evaluation measures for the policy options. But he wasn’t invited to any of the stakeholder forums or interviewed by the department.

Also lacking has been any health-sector representation on the two major committees with a role in fuel standards. The health minister isn’t among the members of the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, which is responsible for coordinating the government’s regulation of motor vehicle emissions, and the health department is not represented in its secretariat.

Interestingly, the forum’s influence on policymaking is hard to gauge because details of its meetings are not publicly available — a lack of accountability highlighted by senator Rex Patrick when he questioned a representative of the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities during a Senate inquiry hearing in August 2018:

Senator Patrick: I presume the ministerial forum produces minutes.

Mr Foulds: No, they don’t produce minutes as such…

Senator Patrick: Do you have officials go along that take notes?

Mr Foulds: The forum has met without officials and with officials.

Another key advisory group on fuel standards is the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee, whose members include representatives of all states and territories, the Commonwealth, fuel producers, an environment protection body and a consumer interest body, but no health expert or representative of the health sector. The minister is required to consult the committee before creating or amending a fuel quality standard.

Final regulation impact statement

The lack of health-sector involvement in these two committees and their secretariats probably contributed to the focus on the oil industry’s perspective rather than health impacts in the final regulation impact statement, released in August 2018. The statement includes an analysis of policy options B, C and F (the industry’s option) relative to the status quo (option A), based on the following criteria:

  1. Achieve appreciable health and environmental outcomes
  2. Ensure the most effective operation of engines
  3. Facilitate adoption of better engine and emission control technologies
  4. Achieve harmonisation with European standards, as appropriate
  5. Minimise regulatory burden
  6. Maximise net national benefits.

The analysis demonstrated that option F only partially met the first criterion: appreciable health and environmental outcomes. It also showed that option B was the only one that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

The final regulatory impact statement concedes that option B was supported by approximately 60 per cent of submissions because it would deliver maximum health and environmental benefits. It also states that the proposal to reduce sulphur to 10 ppm was “supported almost unanimously — only one submission (confidential) expressed a preference to maintain current levels of sulphur in petrol.”

Yet the statement opts for the industry’s option F on the basis that it avoids the cost of upgrading oil refineries. It also makes clear that this was the option supported by the downstream petroleum sector. In relation to sulphur, the statement says that delaying any reduction until 2027 is the “best option for the viability of domestic refineries” and therefore “the best option from a system-wide perspective.”

Omission of health expert views

Health experts’ detailed criticism of the methodology used to determine cost-effectiveness is not covered in the statement; instead, it focuses almost exclusively on the positions of the Australian Institute of Petroleum and other industry organisations. Tellingly, its summary of “key views from stakeholders” fails to mention any of the health and environmental groups that provided feedback on the policy options.

Following the publication of the final regulatory impact statement, the new fuel standard regulations were introduced into parliament last year.

The failure of the standards review to improve Australia’s fuel quality shows how interest groups with deep pockets can dissuade governments from making changes that reflect expert advice and promote public health. That influence explains why Australia lags behind most other developed countries in reducing the level of toxic material produced by our seventeen million cars, even though 90 per cent of Australians live in urban areas and are directly affected by vehicle emissions.

The implications for dealing with other threats to public health, such as climate change, obesity, poverty and inequality, are obvious.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this issue, according to Robyn Schofield, is that Australians “have been lulled into a false sense of security and don’t understand that these standards are being dictated by the petroleum industry.”

Add to this the fact that improving fuel quality is relatively simple compared with other strategies to reduce air pollution, such as phasing out coal-fired power. Schofield describes better standards as potentially an “easy public health win” that should be a “no brainer” for governments.

At the very least, as the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes consortium suggested in its submission, the health department should be included formally in developing fuel standards. The Heart and Stroke Foundations and other public health groups could play an important role from outside by using their profile and lobbying expertise to support scientists taking on a greater advocacy role.

In contrast with both the American and British Heart Associations, neither of these organisations currently takes a position on the health impacts of air pollution.

Overcoming vested interests

Australia has relied on high-quality scientific and medical expertise to steer us through the Covid-19 pandemic. But we don’t have a good track record in supporting research scientists outside crises.

The lag between public health research findings and policy changes can be significant: it took twenty years from the discovery of the health harms of smoking until the first health warnings appeared on tobacco products, and another twenty years before tobacco advertising was banned.

We shouldn’t have to wait forty years for action on fuel quality. But history shows that overcoming the influence of well-resourced interest groups and the inertia of governments and entrenched bureaucratic cultures won’t happen without a struggle.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search by: Categories or tags

Search
Generic filters
Filter by Categories
@WePublicHealth2021
#CroakeyLIVE #Budget2021Health
#MHReform
#OutOfTheBox
#QldVotesHealth
#RCIADIC30Years
#RuralHealthJustice
#ShiftingGearsSummit
#TRIPSwaiver
2021 Floods
Budget2020Health
Bushfires
codesign
community control
COVID-19
Croakey Conference News Service
#2020ResearchExcellence
#21OPCC
#BackToTheFire
#FoodGovernance2021
#GiantSteps21
#Govern4Health
#HealthClimateSolutions21
#HealthReImagined
#HearMe21
#IndigenousClimateJustice21
#NNF2021
#RANZCP2021
#SAHeapsUnfair
#ValueBasedCare
#WCepi2021
#YHFSummit
Croakey Professional Services
#AKctionKidneyCare
#BetterCareCOVID
#CommunityControl
#COVIDthinktank21
#KidneyCareTogether
ACSQHC series
Healthdirect Australia series 2019
Lowitja Indigenous knowledge translation series
Croakey projects
@WePublicHealth
@WePublicHealth2020
#CommunityMatters
#CoveringClimateNow
#CroakeyLIVE #USvotesHealth
#CroakeyREAD
#CroakeyVOICES
#CroakeyYOUTH
#HealthyCOP26
#HousingJusticeAus
#JusticeCOVID
#LookingLocal
#MRFFtransparency
#OutOfPocket
#TalkingTeeth
AroundTheTraps
Caring for the Frontline
COVID SNAPS
COVIDglobalMHseries
Croakey longreads
CroakeyEXPLORE
Gavin Mooney
Inside Story
Journal Watch
PIJ Commissions 2020
Summer Reading 2019-2020
The Conversation
The Health Wrap
TOO MUCH of a Good Thing
CroakeyGO
#CroakeyGO #NavigatingHealth
#GamblingHarms
#HeatwaveHealth
Mapping CroakeyGo
CroakeyNews
Cultural determinants of health
Digital platforms
Elections and budgets
Federal Budget 2019-20
Federal Budget 2020-21
Federal Election 2022
Federal Budget 2021-22
Global health and climate change
2019-20 climate bushfire emergency
asylum seeker and refugee health
Climate emergency
disasters
Ebola
extreme weather events
flooding 2011
global health
NHS
NZ Election 2017
WHO
health
Health workers
Healthcare and health reform
abortion
adverse events
aged care
allied health care
Australian Medical Association
cancer
cardiovascular disease
child health
Choosing Wisely
chronic diseases
co-payments
Cochrane Collaboration
complementary medicines
conflicts of interest
death and dying
diabetes
digital technology
disabilities
e-health
emergency departments and care
Equally Well
euthanasia
evidence-based issues
general practice
genetics
health & medical marketing
health and medical education
health and medical research
Health Care Homes
health ethics
health financing and costs
health reform
health regulation
health workforce
HIV/AIDS
hospitals
HRT
infectious diseases
influenza
international medical graduates
journal articles
LGBTIQ
medical marijuana
Medicare Locals
men's health
mental health
MyHospitals website
National Commission of Audit 2014
National Health Performance Authority
naturopathy
NDIS
NHMRC
non communicable diseases
nurses and nursing
oral health
organ transplants
out of pocket costs
pain
palliative care
paramedics
pathology
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
pharmaceutical industry
pharmacy
Pregnancy and childbirth
primary health care
Primary Health Networks
private health insurance
quality and safety of health care
rural and remote health
screening
sexual health
social media and healthcare
suicide
surgery
swine flu
telehealth
tests
TGA
trauma
women's health
youth health
Indigenous health
#CTG10
#NTRC
Acknowledgement
cultural safety
Indigenous education
Lowitja Institute
NT Intervention
social and emotional wellbeing
Uluru Statement
WA community closures
News about Croakey
PIJ Commissions 2021
Public health and population health
#PreventiveHealthStrategy
#UnmetNeedsinPublicHealth
air pollution
alcohol
consumer health matters
COVIDwrap
environmental health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
food and nutrition
gambling
Government 2.0
gun control
health communications
health impact assessment
Health in All Policies
health inequalities
health literacy
human rights
illicit drugs
injuries
legal issues
marriage equality
Media Doctor Australia
media-related issues
nanny state
National Preventive Health Agency
obesity
occupational health
physical activity
plain packaging
prevention
public health
public interest journalism
road safety
sport
sugar tax
tobacco control
transport
vaccination
violence
Web 2.0
weight loss products
Royal Commission
Social determinants of health
discrimination
education
housing
justice
Justice Reinvestment
NBN
Newstart
poverty
racism
social policy
Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
Testing Croakey News category 1
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013