Common products, like perfume, paint and printer ink, are polluting the atmosphere



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We need to measure the volatile compounds that waft off the products in our homes and offices.

Jenny Fisher, University of Wollongong and Kathryn Emmerson, CSIRO

Picture the causes of air pollution in a major city and you are likely to visualise pollutants spewing out of cars, trucks and buses.

For some types of air pollutants, however, transportation is only half as important as the chemicals in everyday consumer products like cleaning agents, printer ink, and fragrances, according to a study published today in Science.

Air pollution: a chemical soup

Air pollution is a serious health concern, responsible for millions of premature deaths each year, with even more anticipated due to climate change.




Read more:
Climate change set to increase air pollution deaths by hundreds of thousands by 2100


Although we typically picture pollution as coming directly from cars or power plants, a large fraction of air pollution actually comes from chemical reactions that happen in the atmosphere. One necessary starting point for that chemistry is a group of hundreds of molecules collectively known as “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs).

VOCs in the atmosphere can come from many different sources, both man-made and natural. In urban areas, VOCs have historically been blamed largely on vehicle fuels (both gasoline and diesel) and natural gas.

Fuel emissions are dropping

Thanks in part to more stringent environmental regulations and in part to technological advances, VOCs released into the air by vehicles have dropped dramatically.

In this new study, the researchers used detailed energy and chemical production records to figure out what fraction of the VOCs from oil and natural gas are released by vehicle fuels versus other sources. They found that the decline in vehicle emissions means that – in a relative sense – nearly twice as much comes from chemical products as comes from vehicle fuel, at least in the US. Those chemicals include cleaning products, paints, fragrances and printer ink – all things found in modern homes.

The VOCs from these products get into the air because they evaporate easily. In fact, in many cases, this is exactly what they are designed to do. Without evaporating VOCs, we wouldn’t be able to smell the scents wafting by from perfumes, scented candles, or air fresheners.

Overall, this is a good news story: VOCs from fuel use have decreased, so the air is cleaner. Since the contribution from fuels has dropped, it is not surprising that chemical products, which have not been as tightly regulated, are now responsible for a larger share of the VOCs.

Predicting air quality

An important finding from this work is that these chemical products have largely been ignored when constructing the models that we use to predict air pollution – which impacts how we respond to and regulate pollutants.

The researchers found that ignoring the VOCs from chemical products had significant impacts on predictions of air quality. In outdoor environments, they found that these products could be responsible for as much as 60% of the particles that formed chemically in the air above Los Angeles.

The effects were even larger indoors – a major concern as we spend most of our time indoors. Without accounting for chemical products, a model of indoor air pollutants under-predicted measurements by a whopping 87%. Including the consumer products really helped to fix this problem.




Read more:
We can’t afford to ignore indoor air quality – our lives depend on it


What does this mean for Australia?

In Australia we do a stocktake of our VOC emissions to the air every few years. Our vehicle-related VOC emissions have also been dropping and are now only about a quarter as large as they were in 1990.

Historical and projected trends in Australia’s road transport emissions of VOCs.
Author provided, adapted from Australia State of the Environment 2016: atmosphere

Nonetheless, the most recent check suggests most of our VOCs still come from cars and trucks, factories and fires. Still, consumer products can’t be ignored – especially as our urban population continues to grow. Because these sources are spread out across the city, their contributions can be difficult to estimate accurately.

We need to make sure our future VOC stocktakes include sources from consumer products such as cleaning fluids, indoor fragrances and home office items like printing ink. The stocktakes are used as the basis for our models, and comparing models to measurements helps us understand what affects our air quality and how best to improve it. It was a lack of model-to-measurement agreement that helped to uncover the VW vehicle emissions scandal, where the manufacturer was deliberately under-estimating how much nitrogen gas was being released through the exhaust.

If we can’t get our predictions to agree with the indoor measurements, we’ll need to work harder to identify all the emission sources correctly. This means going into typical Australian homes, making air quality measurements, and noting what activities are happening at the same time (like cooking, cleaning or decorating).




Read more:
Heading back to the office? Bring these plants with you to fight formaldehyde (and other nasties)


What should we do now?

If we want to keep air pollution to a minimum, it will become increasingly important to take into account the VOCs from chemical products, both in our models of air pollution and in our regulatory actions.

In the meantime, as we spend so much of our time indoors, it makes sense to try to limit our personal exposure to these VOCs. There are several things we can do, such as choosing fragrance-free cleaning products and keeping our use of scented candles and air fresheners to a minimum. Research from NASA has also shown that growing house plants like weeping figs and spider plants can help to remove some of the VOCs from indoor air.

The ConversationAnd of course, we can always open a window (as long as we keep the outdoor air clean, too).

Jenny Fisher, Senior Lecturer in Atmospheric Chemistry, University of Wollongong and Kathryn Emmerson, , CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Delhi suffers second smog crisis in 12 months, as wake-up calls go unheeded


Vijay Koul, CSIRO

A year ago Delhi was choking, as smog in the Indian capital soared to 16 times the government’s safe limit for particulate pollution. Now the same thing has happened again.

Levels of the most dangerous particles, called PM2.5, have once again reached last November’s levels: more than 700 micrograms per cubic metre in some parts of the city. Experts say that prolonged exposure to this level of pollution is equivalent to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

Just 12 months after the record-breaking pollution that should have been a major wake-up call, Delhi is again plunged into darkness. It is a big embarrassment that authorities were not better prepared for this year’s smog season.


Read more: As another smog season looms, India must act soon to keep Delhi from gasping


In July, I released a detailed analysis of the factors that cause Delhi’s November smog.

Based on data from India’s Central Pollution Control Board and from NASA, I concluded that Delhi’s record-breaking pollution in November 2016 was largely due to slow wind speeds and prevailing northerly winds, as well as Diwali fireworks, and the widespread practice of burning crop residues. Others, including the Delhi government, reported similar findings.

But this knowledge has not stopped it happening again, much to the frustration of Delhi residents who now face a second consecutive pollution-plagued winter.

Of course, the authorities do not control the wind speed or direction. But they can and should take steps to curb the other crucial factors.

Burning issue

In Haryana and Punjab states to the north of Delhi, farmers routinely burn their croplands after the summer harvest, ridding their fields of stubble, weed and pests and readying them for winter planting.

This agricultural event coincides with Diwali, India’s festival of lights, which features three or four nights of fireworks before and after the festival, in October or early November.

This series of NASA satellite images clearly shows the pollution plume moving across the landscape during the first two weeks of November. Red dots indicate live fires.

November 1.
NASA
November 8.
NASA
November 14.
NASA

These images show that crop burning is still continuing, especially in parts of Punjab. As the graph below shows, crop burning produced significant amounts of pollution from November 2, 2017, after an earlier pollution spike around October 20 due to Diwali.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/ZHncI/1/

Other countries have taken measures to limit crop burning. In Australia, the Victorian state government strongly encourages farmers to retain crop stubble residues, although it allows sporadic burning. In some Canadian provinces, stubble burning is allowed by permit only.

There is no such legislation under consideration in India. But without a ban on crop burning, Delhi’s pollution woes are likely to continue.

It is high time that the government responded, before Delhi’s pollution gets even more out of hand. Particles in the PM2.5 size range can travel deep into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath.

Exposure to fine particles can also affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Studies have linked increases in daily PM2.5 exposure with increased respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits and deaths. More than a million deaths in 2015 were attributed to India’s air pollution.

What governments and residents can do

There is a range of short- and long-term options to combat the problem.

Farmers in Haryana and Punjab should be banned from residue crop burning during October and November, and should be given financial compensation for the inconvenience.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s residents should consider driving less, either by carpooling or using public transport. The city’s authorities, meanwhile, could restrict the entry of polluting trucks and heavy-duty goods vehicles, gradually phase out and ultimately ban older vehicles, and increase parking charges or restrict families to a single car.

A reliable 24-hour power supply would help to reduce the reliance on heavily polluting diesel generators in offices and factories. Subsidies for cleaner fuels or electric or hybrid cars would also help.


Read more: Air pollution causes more than 3 million premature deaths a year worldwide


Authorities also have a duty to keep the public informed of pollution levels, through daily television, radio and social media updates, as well as pamphlets warning of the effects of air quality on health. On the worst days, schools should be closed and children and older people urged to stay indoors.

In the longer terms, a “green belt” could be planted around the city, to help soak up traffic-induced air and noise pollution.

The ConversationMany of these policies would involve significant upheaval. But Delhi needs action before it is too late. The alternative is to be plunged ever deeper into the murk.

Vijay Koul, Honorary fellow, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia still lags behind in vehicle emissions testing



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Emissions from real-life urban driving can be much higher than advertised.
AMPG/Shutterstock.com

Zoran Ristovski, Queensland University of Technology and Nic Surawski, University of Technology Sydney

Australian cars are using 23% more fuel than advertised, according to a report from the Australian Automobile Association, which also claims that eco-friendly hybrid electric cars emit four times more greenhouse gas than the manufacturers advertise.

The report on real-world (that is, on-road) emission testing was commissioned by consultancy firm ABMARC to test 30 cars twice on Melbourne roads. The method used to measure both the emissions and the fuel consumption was a so-called Portable Emissions Measurement System (PEMS).


Read more: The VW scandal exposes the high tech control of engine emissions


They found that when compared to the laboratory limits, on-road vehicle NOx (a toxic gas pollutant) emissions were exceeded for 11 out of 12 diesel vehicles, and carbon monoxide (also a toxic gas) emissions were exceeded by 27% of tested petrol vehicles.

However, the key consideration here is the phrase “comparison to the laboratory limits” because on-road tests can’t directly be compared to the laboratory test limits, for several key reasons.

How are emissions from vehicles measured?

Australian Design Rules (ADR) stipulate that before introducing a new vehicle model on the market, every car or truck manufacturer in Australia has to test one new car in the laboratory.

This is done by placing the vehicle on a chassis dynamometer, connecting the exhaust to highly accurate emissions-measurement equipment, and driving the vehicle according to a strictly defined routine.

The chassis dynamometer simulates the load conditions that the vehicle would experience if it were driven on a road. In current practice, the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) is used. This defines the speed of the vehicle and rate of acceleration for every second of the 20-minute test.

There is strict control of the testing protocol, with stipulations on how and when the gears should be changed, right down to minute details such as turning off the radio while the headlights are on. This strict control enables testers to compare the performance of different vehicles measured in different laboratories around the world.

However, these highly defined conditions have led to certain manufacturers enabling the car’s engine management system to recognise when it is being tested and to adopt and produce cleaner exhaust emissions. The most famous example of this is the recent VW scandal that affected millions of vehicles worldwide.

Even though the driving cycle has “new” in its name, NEDC was designed in the 1980s and today can be considered outdated.

Real Driving Emissions

To address these challenges, Real Driving Emissions (RDE) tests were developed. RDE tests measure the pollutants emitted by cars while driven on the road. To run a RDE test, cars are fitted with a Portable Emissions Measurement System (PEMS).

A PEMS is a complex piece of equipment that sits in the back of the car and monitors key pollutants emitted by the vehicle in real time as it is driven on the road.

These tests have proved extremely useful in highlighting some of the shortfalls of the laboratory tests. They can be run for much longer periods (several hours as compared with 15-30 minutes in the laboratory) and can give us information on long-term emission performance of the vehicles. They will not replace laboratory tests, but can provide additional information.

RDE requirements will ensure that cars deliver low emissions during on-road conditions. In 2021, Europe will become the first region in the world to introduce such complementary on-road testing for new vehicles.

RDE tests still face several unresolved challenges. The first is that the PEMS are still being developed and are not as accurate as the lab measurement equipment. The second, and more important, is the variability that one encounters while driving in real-world road conditions.

In order to compare the RDE test results with the laboratory-based standards a “conformity factor” is defined as a “not to exceed limit” that takes into account the error of measurements. This error is due to the PEMS equipment being less accurate, the variability in road conditions and driving behaviour, and thus the fact that the RDE tests will not deliver exactly the same results for each run.

A conformity factor of 1.5 would mean that the emissions measured by the PEMS in an RDE test should not exceed the standard NEDC test by more than a factor of 1.5. This is exactly the value that European Union legislators want to introduce – but not before 2021.

Australia is years behind

Australia remains years behind the European Union when it comes to vehicle emission standards.

The Euro emissions standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles sold in the EU. Australia introduced the Euro 5 emission standards in 2016 as compared to Europe, which introduced these in 2009. At that time EU abolished the Euro 5 standard for already new ones in 2015.


Read more: Australia’s weaker emissions standards allow car makers to ‘dump’ polluting cars


Australia needs to upgrade to meet Euro 6 standards in order to provide effective detection of new vehicles. These include measures such as remote sensing as part of a vehicles road-worthiness assessment. This would help to ensure the maintenance status of vehicles and deliver compliance with Euro 6 RDE legislation.

What the Australian Automobile Association report highlights most of all is that the in-use vehicles (whether or not they are hybrid vehicles), many of which fall under the Euro 5 standard (or older), have almost all failed emission tests.

The ConversationUntil Australia updates our vehicle testing regimes to meet international standards, it will remain extremely difficult for Australians who want to buy an energy-efficient vehicle to make an informed purchasing decision.

Zoran Ristovski, Professor, Queensland University of Technology and Nic Surawski, Lecturer – Air Quality/Vehicle Emissions, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia emits mercury at double the global average


Robyn Schofield, University of Melbourne

A report released this week by advocacy group Environmental Justice Australia presents a confronting analysis of toxic emissions from Australia’s coal-fired power plants.

The report, which investigated pollutants including fine particles, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, also highlights our deeply inadequate mercury emissions regulations. In New South Wales the mercury emissions limit is 666 times the US limits, and in Victoria there is no specific mercury limit at all.

This is particularly timely, given that yesterday the Minamata Convention, a United Nations treaty limiting the production and use of mercury, entered into force. Coal-fired power stations and some metal manufacturing are major sources of mercury in our atmosphere, and Australia’s per capita mercury emissions are roughly double the global average.


Read more: Why won’t Australia ratify an international deal to cut mercury pollution?


In fact, Australia is the world’s sixteenth-largest emitter of mercury, and while our government has signed the Minamata convention it has yet to ratify it. According to a 2016 draft impact statement from the Department of Environment and Energy:

Australia’s mercury pollution occurs despite existing regulatory controls, partly because State and Territory laws limit the concentration of mercury in emissions to air […] but there are few incentives to reduce the absolute level of current emissions and releases over time.

Mercury can also enter the atmosphere when biomass is burned (either naturally or by people), but electricity generation and non-ferrous (without iron) metal manufacturing are the major sources of mercury to air in Australia. Electricity generation accounted for 2.8 tonnes of the roughly 18 tonnes emitted in 2015-16.

Mercury in the food web

Mercury is a global pollutant: no matter where it’s emitted, it spreads easily around the world through the atmosphere. In its vaporised form, mercury is largely inert, although inhaling large quantities carries serious health risks. But the health problems really start when mercury enters the food web.

I’ve been involved in research that investigates how mercury moves from the air into the food web of the Southern Ocean. The key is Antartica’s sea ice. Sea salt contains bromine, which builds up on the ice over winter. In spring, when the sun returns, large amounts of bromine is released to the atmosphere and causes dramatically named “bromine explosion events”.

Essentially, very reactive bromine oxide is formed, which then reacts with the elemental mercury in the air. The mercury is then deposited onto the sea ice and ocean, where microbes interact with it, returning some to the atmosphere and methylating the rest.

Once mercury is methylated it can bioaccumulate, and moves up the food chain to apex predators such as tuna – and thence to humans.

As noted by the Australian government in its final impact statement for the Minamata Convention:

Mercury can cause a range of adverse health impacts which include; cognitive impairment (mild mental retardation), permanent damage to the central nervous system, kidney and heart disease, infertility, and respiratory, digestive and immune problems. It is strongly advised that pregnant women, infants, and children in particular avoid exposure.


Read more: Climate change set to increase air pollution deaths by hundreds of thousands


Australia must do better

A major 2009 study estimated that reducing global mercury emissions would carry an economic benefit of between US$1.8 billion and US$2.22 billion (in 2005 dollars). Since then, the US, the European Union and China have begun using the best available technology to reduce their mercury emissions, but Australia remains far behind.

But it doesn’t have to be. Methods like sulfur scrubbing, which remove fine particles and sulfur dioxide, also can capture mercury. Simply limiting sulfur pollutants of our power stations can dramatically reduce mercury levels.

Ratifying the Minamata Convention will mean the federal government must create a plan to reduce our mercury emissions, with significant health and economic benefits. And because mercury travels around the world, action from Australia wouldn’t just help our region: it would be for the global good.


The ConversationIn an earlier version of this article the standfirst referenced a 2006 study stating Australia is the fifth largest global emitter of mercury. Australia is now 16th globally.

Robyn Schofield, Senior Lecturer for Climate System Science and Director of Environmental Science Hub, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate change set to increase air pollution deaths by hundreds of thousands by 2100


Guang Zeng, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Jason West, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Climate change is set to increase the amount of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution we breathe, which leads to lung disease, heart conditions, and stroke. Less rain and more heat means this pollution will stay in the air for longer, creating more health problems.

Our research, published in Nature Climate Change, found that if climate change continues unabated, it will cause about 60,000 extra deaths globally each year by 2030, and 260,000 deaths annually by 2100, as a result of the impact of these changes on pollution.

This is the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of climate change on global air quality and health. Researchers from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and New Zealand between them used nine different global chemistry-climate models.

Most models showed an increase in likely deaths – the clearest signal yet of the harm climate change will do to air quality and human health, adding to the millions of people who die from air pollution every year.


Read more: Can we blame climate change for thunderstorm asthma?


Stagnant air

Climate change fundamentally alters the air currents that move pollution across continents and between the lower and higher layers of the atmosphere. This means that where air becomes more stagnant in a future climate, pollution stays near the ground in higher concentrations.

Ground-level ozone is created when chemical pollution (such as emissions from cars or manufacturing plants) reacts in the presence of sunlight. As climate change makes an area warmer and drier, it will produce more ozone.

Fine particles are a mixture of small solids and liquid droplets suspended in air. Examples include black carbon, organic carbon, soot, smoke and dust. These fine particles, which are known to cause lung diseases, are emitted from industry, transport and residential sources. Less rain means that fine particles stay in the air for longer.

While fine particles and ozone both occur naturally, human activity has increased them substantially.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has used four different future climate scenarios, representing optimistic to pessimistic levels of emissions reduction.

In a previous study, we modelled air pollution-related deaths between 2000 and 2100 based on the most pessimistic of these scenarios. This assumes large population growth, modest improvements in emissions-reducing technology, and ineffectual climate change policy.

That earlier study found that while global deaths related to ozone increase in the future, those related to fine particles decrease markedly under this scenario.

Emissions will likely lead to deaths

In our new study, we isolated the effects of climate change on global air pollution, by using emissions from the year 2000 together with simulations of climate for 2030 and 2100.

The projected air pollutant changes due to climate change were then used in a health risk assessment model. That model takes into account population growth, how susceptible a population is to health issues and how that might change over time, and the mortality risk from respiratory and heart diseases and lung cancer.

In simulations with our nine chemistry-climate models, we found that climate change caused 14% of the projected increase in ozone-related mortality by 2100, and offset the projected decrease in deaths related to fine particles by 16%.

Our models show that premature deaths increase in all regions due to climate change, except in Africa, and are greatest in India and East Asia.

Using multiple models makes the results more robust than using a single model. There is some spread of results amongst the nine models used here, with a few models estimating that climate change may decrease air pollution-related deaths. This highlights that results from any study using a single model should be interpreted with caution.

Australia and New Zealand are both relatively unpolluted compared with countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore, both ozone and fine particle pollution currently cause relatively few deaths in both countries. However, we found that under climate change the risk will likely increase.

The ConversationThis paper highlights that climate change will increase human mortality through changes in air pollution. These health impacts add to others that climate change will also cause, including from heat stress, severe storms and the spread of infectious diseases. By impacting air quality, climate change will likely offset the benefits of other measures to improve air quality.

Guang Zeng, Atmospheric Scientist, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Jason West, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering , University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia needs stricter rules to curb air pollution, but there’s a lot we could all do now


Robyn Schofield, University of Melbourne and Mark Stevenson, University of Melbourne

Have you ever left your car running as you wait for a passenger to return from a quick errand? It’s called idling, and while it may feel easier than switching it off and on again, it wastes money and fuel, and dumps pollutants into the air. Vehicle emissions are a very significant contributor to air pollution, which causes health problems.

Few of us would leave the tap running or the fridge door open, and many are diligent about turning off lights. But when it comes to air pollution, many people are wasteful and unaware.

We need major public health campaigns to change people’s beliefs about what they can do to reduce air pollution, similar to the campaigns and enforcement that made our public spaces smoke-free and our schools and beaches sun smart. Australia also needs stronger policy aimed at curbing air pollution.

The Australian government’s fuel efficiency standards and noxious vehicle emission standards review, under way now, offers a chance to do that – but what’s been proposed so far doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

A lack of awareness and weak standards

Air pollution is associated with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, dementia, cancer, pregnancy complications and adverse birth outcomes.

Many governments around the world now ask citizens to stay home when particulate matter – meaning the mix of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air – from vehicles, fossil-fuel and wood burning are at hazardous levels.

And bans on diesel vehicles in some places are part of a broader push to cut the amount of harmful particulate matter, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Australia, by contrast, lags behind the rest of the world on policies to reduce air pollution. Take, for example, our rules on sulfur in fuels – a particularly damaging component of vehicle emissions.

Australia has one of the world’s most lenient sulfur standards for petrol, allowing 150 parts per million. That’s 15 times the limit allowed in the European Union, Japan and the US. It’s three times what’s allowed in Brazil and China (China will allow just 10 parts per million from 2018).

Australia’s air quality standards, which are also being reviewed under the National Clean Air Agreement, feature good targets – even better than the World Health Organisation recommendations for PM2.5. However, without stricter measures to reduce vehicle emissions, these air quality targets will not be achieved.

The Australian government’s review of fuel efficiency and vehicle emission standards is looking at particulate matter, ozone, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (known collectively as NOx), and carbon. But what has been proposed so far worryingly includes a do-nothing scenario.

Doing nothing comes with significant cost

The OECD estimates that there are approximately 740 preventable deaths per year in Australia due to ozone and PM2.5 (the very fine particulate matter from vehicle emissions which, when inhaled, goes deep into the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream), but that does not include NOx – so these are very conservative estimates.

To put this in context, there are 1,280 deaths on our roads each year and another 740 deaths due to vehicle emissions. This is a significant cost for choosing a transport system reliant on fossil fuel.

If the strictest standard being considered by Australia under the review – the Euro 6 standard – is mandated for both light and heavy vehicles, a net benefit of A$675 million will be realised by 2040. This figure is very small compared to the current annual cost of vehicle pollution to Australia of A$4 billion.

But the standard Australia considers the strictest option is actually business as usual now in the US and Europe. Surprisingly, the impact statement doesn’t even discuss banning or phasing out diesel vehicles in cities – a policy that experts now consider global best practice.

What could be done?

The decisions being made this year on Australia’s fuel efficiency and vehicle emission policies can improve the health of our urban air. This is a great chance to simultaneously improve fuel efficiency, demand higher-quality fuels and implement emission testing for vehicles to improve the air in our cities.

In the short term, we can all try to use cars less often and not idle our cars when in use. Raising awareness helps; a recent study showed millions of dollars could be saved in fuel costs by exposing drivers of fleets to anti-idling initiatives.

Purchasing a vehicle with automatic idle-stop technology will help cut vehicle emissions. This technology, popular in high-end European car models, automatically switches off the vehicle when it is still and allows the driver to restart the car when their foot presses the accelerator.

To achieve a population-level benefit from such technology, however, would require policymakers to include it in the Australian Design Rules, the national standards for vehicle safety, anti-theft measures and emissions. That process can take many years.

A more sustainable approach to air pollution would be to upgrade Australian refineries to supply low-sulfur fuel. Although costly, the alternative – the escalating health burden associated with vehicle emissions – is a cost too high for society to pay.

We cannot afford to continually invest in a transport system operated solely on fossil fuels. Supporting public transport that operates with “clean” fuels (such as our trams and trains, which run on electricity) will go some way to reducing air pollution in our cities. It is worth noting, though, that while our electricity is mostly fossil-fuelled, this only shifts the air pollution to someone else’s backyard.

Importantly, we need to raise public awareness of the quality of our air and ensure the government considers the long-term ramifications of short-sighted policies.

We must all do our part to improve air quality in Australia – and that means not idling your car, which is an offence that can attract fines as high as $5,000 and/or jail time in some parts of the world.

We can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. Let’s start treating our air as the valuable commodity it is.

The Conversation

Robyn Schofield, Senior Lecturer for Climate System Science, University of Melbourne and Mark Stevenson, Professor of Urban Transport and Public Health, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.