- + Key points: Environment
• Human health is inextricably linked to the environment.
• The main contributors to air pollution in cities are industry, motor vehicles and wood-burning heaters.
• In the last ten years in Sydney:
• levels of ozone in the air have exceeded permissible levels from 5 to 21 days
• levels of particulate air pollution have peaked at the time of bushfires. The 2009 dust storm caused extreme levels of particulate pollution for a short duration.
• A range of indicators of the quality of drinking water, and water for recreational use, are monitored continuously. The majority of households in NSW use public water supplies.
• Recent testing of drinking water indicates that drinking water supplied by the Sydney and Hunter Water Corporations meets Drinking Water Guidelines and is of good quality.
• Overall compliance rate for rural water supplies is high, but results from individual supplies vary substantially:
• the level of fluoride in Sydney and Hunter Water Corporations' drinking water stayed within the required daily limits for the majority of samples tested in 2009. Over three-quarters of the samples in rural water supplies met the daily fluoride standards in 2009
• all samples tested for inorganic chemicals (lead, copper, nitrate and nitrites) met the standards in the Sydney and Hunter regions. In the regional water supplies tested, lead was detected at unacceptable levels in 0.7% and copper in 0.1% of samples in 2009.
• Leaded petrol has been the main source of lead exposure for most NSW children, except those living near major sites for lead mining. In recent years blood lead levels among preschool children living in Broken Hill have declined steadily, with 80% of children aged 1 to 4 years tested in 2009 having lead levels below the maximum permissible.
• The Housing for Health program aims to assess, repair, and replace health hardware in Aboriginal residences. Surveys conducted on 357 houses 6-12 months apart identified major improvements in key areas of safety, and facilities such as working showers and laundries, as a result of the program in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
• In 2010, NSW Health published an evaluation of the program that assessed health outcomes from 1998 to 2008. This evaluation, Closing the Gap: 10 Years of Housing for Health in NSW, provides evidence of a 40% reduction in hospitalisation with infectious diseases among residents of houses that received Housing for Health, compared to the rest of the rural NSW Aboriginal population.
- + Background: Environment
Natural and built environment
Factors in the natural and built environment have direct and indirect effects on human health which can be immediate or long-term. In rural areas issues as diverse as land use, agricultural practice, water quality and biodiversity all affect human health. People in urban and built environments are affected by air and water quality, transport choice, urban form and environmental health infrastructure.
Population growth and climate change
The effects on human health of global phenomena such as population growth and climate change are also recognised at a local level. The report from the Garnaut Climate Change Review has warned of a variety of health impacts from climate change. These are based on no mitigation, through various levels of carbon emission control, and the subsequent impact on health from changes in temperature and humidity. The Report notes that the health impacts will vary by region. Potential health impacts include direct (e.g. increasing number of heatwaves and air pollution from bushfires) and indirect (increases in food- and water-borne diseases, increasing prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases from changes to natural ecological systems).
- + Interventions: Environment
Responding to the large-scale environmental change, the 2008 Public Health Congress called on “all key stakeholders to invest in sustainable policies, actions and infrastructure to address the determinants of health”, including the environmental factors leading to climate change.
Responsibility for the management of environmental health hazards is deployed across three tiers of government. The Commonwealth and States work cooperatively to set environmental standards for drinking water and air quality. In NSW, the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Control and Water has carriage of legislation governing controls on air and water quality, chemical hazards, and contaminated land. The NSW Ministry of Health has responsibilities in relation to drinking water, and a variety of infectious hazards linked to premises including Legionella in public air conditioning systems, tattooing and the funeral industry.
The NSW Ministry of Health, Public Health Units in Local Health Districts, and local government manage these hazards in partnership. The NSW Ministry of Health also manages statewide programs such as the Aboriginal Environmental Health Program, the NSW Drinking Water Monitoring Program and the Arboviral Disease Program.
- + For more information: Environment
Useful websites include:
Australian Government Department of the Environment at http://www.environment.gov.au
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au
Department of Primary Industries Water at http://www.water.nsw.gov.au
Australian Bureau of Statistics at http://www.abs.gov.au
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare at http://www.aihw.gov.au
healthdirect at http://www.healthdirect.gov.au