by Dorothy L. Robinson
Issue addressed: Estimated health costs and principal sources of air pollution are reviewed, together with estimated costs of reducing pollution from major sources in Australia.
Method: Emissions data from the Australian National Pollutant Inventory were compared with published estimates of pollution costs and converted to the cost per kilogram of emissions. Costs per kg of emissions (and, for the two main sources of pollution, diesel vehicles and wood heaters, costs per heater and per vehicle) are relatively easy to understand, making it easier to compare health costs with costs of pollution-control strategies.
Results: Estimated annual costs of morbidity/mortality exceed $1,100 per diesel vehicle and $2,000 per wood heater. Costs of avoiding emissions (about $2.1/kg PM2.5 for phasing out wood heaters and upwards of $70/kg for reducing diesel emissions) are considerably less than the estimated health costs ($166/kg) of those emissions.
Conclusions: In other countries, smokeless zones (for domestic heating), heavy vehicle low-emission zones, and lower registration charges for low-emission vehicles reduce pollution and improve health. Similar ‘polluter-pays’ taxes in Australia to encourage retrofitting of existing diesels and incentives to choose new ones with lowest emissions would provide substantial benefits. Adopting Christchurch’s policy of phasing out wood heaters and ‘polluter-pays’ levies to discourage their use would be extremely cost-effective.
Key words: Air pollution, PM2.5, particulate pollution, cost, mortality, morbidity.
Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2005;16:213-220
According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe level of fine particle air pollution. Policy makers and the public need to understand the costs and sources of air pollution to be able to achieve maximum reduction in emissions for available expenditure. Reduced taxes for low polluters and increased taxes for high polluters, e.g. by ‘polluter-pays’ levies proportional to estimated health costs, would be an efficient and equitable way to safeguard community health.