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Feature: Taking control of city air pollution (4)

By Tiffany Hoy (Xinhua)

20:42, February 25, 2013

According to Bridgman, part of Sydney's success in raising its air quality is attributable to greater public awareness of the health and environmental risks that accompany city smog.

"They've become more knowledgeable about the sources of pollution, and they're becoming more vigilant in terms of watching what's going on. And they've also become more noisy -- more willing to complain," he said.

Through the online National Pollution Inventory, concerned citizens can check the levels of monitored pollutants in real time in their local area. And in NSW, residents can sign up to receive SMS or email alerts for high pollution days.

"We have a whole range of monitoring stations in Australia, in different states and different cities ...and it's in real time -- you can actually look and see what's happened over the last hour or the last day in emissions of the major pollutants," said Bridgman.

NSW also set up an online system to allow the public to report smoky vehicles, encouraging owners to properly maintain their cars and trucks with defect notices and fines.

Both state and federal governments also introduced measures to encourage cleaner fuels.

NSW investigated and promoted alternative fuels such as liquid petroleum gas, compressed natural gas (CNG), ethanol-petrol blend and biodiesel, and researched fuels that evaporate less quickly.

In 2006, as part of an overall tightening of National Fuel Quality Standards, the Australian federal government introduced a limit on benzene (a toxic, flammable liquid) in petrol to greatly reduce community exposure.

At the pump, vapours from fuel storage tanks were captured and recycled, instead of being allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

The government regards the cost of all of these programs as an investment to avoid the exorbitant health costs of air pollution in the future -- such as China is experiencing now with several people confined to hospital for asthma and respiratory problems.

Industry and small businesses are another major source of city air pollution in Australia, and so also received tighter regulations.

In cities, "you've got small establishments -- like printers, bakers and chicken joints -- that are burning or creating something that releases hydrocarbons into the atmosphere," said Bridgman.

"These are mostly the responsibility of local governmental; ideally working in collaboration with the state government to try to reduce those emissions.

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