When discussing the effect of emissions on our environment, it’s carbon emissions that grab the most headlines. But there are other emissions menacing our communities that are not getting enough attention: air and noise pollution.
Keith Loveridge is a former aircraft engineer who turned his attention to environmental science late in his career. He taught at RMIT University for 7 years and for the past 20 years has done extensive environmental work in local government for the City of Maribyrnong and Whitehorse City Council, championing action to combat climate change and improve air quality.
The air we breathe is often polluted with dangerous chemicals and fine particulate matter, also known as PM1.0 and PM2.5, that can seriously and negatively impact our health. This type of air pollution is dangerous because the particles are so small, they can penetrate deep into our lungs and major organs very quickly and easily, and cause a range of health problems.
Loveridge is deeply concerned about the effects of air pollution caused by diesel on Australian communities.
“People don’t realise or understand how bad diesel pollution is. Diesel engines contribute a disproportionate amount of fine particles into the atmosphere,” says Loveridge. “There is no safe level of exposure from diesel pollution.”
Air pollution, particularly pollution caused by diesel fuel, is a critical concern for many communities, like the City of Maribyrnong, which is disproportionately affected by air pollution compared to other local government areas around Melbourne.
The ill-health effects of air pollution are well documented. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) definitively classified diesel engine exhaust as ‘carcinogenic to humans’, that is, cancer causing. Previously, the WHO had classified only it as ‘probably’ carcinogenic.
The WHO has recently halved the guideline for annual average exposure to PM2.5 from 10 to 5 µg/m3. There are no standards for PM1.0.
Exposure to air pollution can cause a range of other health problems, including liver problems, bladder cancer, brittle bones, damaged skin, respiratory issues, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and stroke. According to the WHO, air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to human health and is responsible for millions of premature deaths around the world every year. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions are vulnerable to the negative impacts of air pollution.
“The asthma rates in the Maribyrnong municipality are 50% higher than Melbourne’s average. Around 30,000 trucks travel through the Maribyrnong LGA every day. They run past schools, childcare centres, hospitals and aged care facilities. But diesel pollution is not just relevant to Maribyrnong. It applies to any city.”
For more than a decade, Loveridge has been championing efforts to improve the air quality in Maribyrnong, representing Maribyrnong Council on the Victorian government’s Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group, and has recently completed Maribyrnong Council’s Air Quality Improvement Plan.
The average age of a truck in Australia is 15 years. There are fewer emissions controls on these older vehicles, making them the worst diesel pollution offenders.
Looking overseas, the Port of Los Angeles in the U.S. was experiencing very high pollution levels caused by diesel-emitting vehicles. They introduced a range of initiatives to improve the air quality, from electric cranes to banning older trucks as part of their Clean Truck Program. This program played a crucial role in reducing emissions of diesel particulate matter by 84%. Since January 2023, all trucks entering San Pedro Bay ports must be 2010 or newer models.
While most Australian councils won’t have the budget or means to copy the Port of Los Angeles, there are many initiatives they can adopt to improve the air quality.
Loveridge discovered EcoTeq by chance.
“I love what EcoTeq is doing,” Loveridge says, speaking about EcoTeq equipping councils with electric cleansing and landscaping equipment.
Loveridge believes councils could be doing a lot more to protect workers using these kinds of equipment and the people around them, especially children.
“A driver on a diesel mower in a park with people and children nearby — they’re all exposed to filthy diesel pollution. There is no safe level of exposure,” he repeats.
One small solution to part of this larger problem is for local governments to switch from diesel-powered mowers to electric ones. Electric mowers produce zero emissions, which means they don’t contribute to air pollution, or carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while mowing parks and gardens. By making this switch, local governments can help to reduce the amount of fine particle matter in the air, reduce their carbon emissions and improve air quality in their communities.
Noise pollution can also have a negative effect on our health and wellbeing, all of which are well documented.
Exposure to high levels of noise can cause hearing loss, sleep disturbances, and other health problems. Noise pollution can also contribute to stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Combined with air pollution, it’s a recipe for a health disaster.
Electric vehicles and electric equipment can help to reduce noise pollution significantly.
“Electric mowers are so much quieter, says Loveridge. “Many diesel and petrol mower operators have to wear ear protection pieces to reduce the noise.” For the people nearby, these mowers or other petrol and diesel-powered landscaping machinery, like leaf blowers or trimmers, can’t control the noise level and most likely don’t have PPE for their ears at hand.
For homes, businesses and other buildings situated along a busy truck route and exposed to diesel emissions, one way to improve air quality inside is to use HEPA filters. HEPA filters help remove fine particle matter from the air, which can improve indoor air quality. However, HEPA filters are more effective if the polluted air is first stopped from entering the building.
Loveridge recommends getting diesel vehicles off the road, especially from suburban streets where the greatest ill-effects of the air pollution are felt. This will also help reduce noise pollution.
Loveridge has seen many overseas initiatives improve air quality and would like to see them implemented in Australia.
“Get rid of dirty old trucks first. Then, stop selling diesel vehicles. That’s happening in a lot of different countries. London, for example, has an ultra-low emissions zone that discourages high-polluting vehicles from entering that zone, and if they do, they must pay a high toll. Air quality has dramatically improved.”
Loveridge would like to see similar zones operate in vulnerable Australian communities.
“The next step is to buy electric trucks, vehicles and equipment, such as that offered by EcoTeq. Use solar to charge them and then you never have to worry about fuel costs or carbon emissions ever again,” says Loveridge.