Greens Motion: Diesel Emissions and Health Studies (15.08.2012)

Written on the 15 August 2012

I am very pleased to rise to speak to Ms Hartland's motion. I know she has previously made a number of comments on this matter, as we have just heard in her contribution.


Can I reassure the chamber and those who have an interest in this issue that the Minister for Health takes this issue seriously and has said so in the past.


As Ms Hartland said, she asked the minister a question on 19 June, during the last sitting week. Thirteen days prior to Ms Hartland asking that question a report was released by the World Health Organisation -- so it is a very recent report -- on a change to the cancer classification for emissions from diesel engine exhausts. As Ms Hartland outlined in her contribution, diesel emissions were previously classified as a probable human carcinogen, or group 2A carcinogen. The authors of the report held a six-day conference as part of their inquiry during which they investigated a number of issues regarding the classification of emissions and the probable or potential aspects relating to cancer.


As somebody who has worked in the health industry and seen the effects of cancer, I am only too aware of the suffering that many cancer victims experience during their treatment. Getting back to the classification, the recent study classified emissions from diesel engine exhausts as carcinogenic to humans, or group 1 carcinogen, following newer studies of US worker exposure to diesel emissions and lung cancer risk.


However, the change in the cancer classification for diesel exhaust emissions does not alter how those emissions are dealt with from a health protection perspective. That is a very important point to make. That is because a group 2A carcinogen is assessed conservatively -- that is, at the same level of potential health risk as a group 1 carcinogen. So there is still a degree of risk of a potential toxin being carcinogenic.


As part of living in a modern world we are exposed to pollutants and toxins as we go about our daily lives. In her contribution Ms Hartland highlighted some possible effects of this exposure in her region, but we are all exposed to various pollutants and toxins as we go about our daily lives. Population exposure risks associated with diesel engine exhaust emissions are managed through a range of strategies, including improved diesel engine technology, vehicle emissions standards and fuel standards. Technology has come a long way in that respect over recent years and it is continually improving, which is a very good thing. Vehicle maintenance programs also contribute to improving those emissions, as do air quality standards and monitoring programs for those vehicles. As we know, newer, modern cars are far more fuel efficient than older vehicles.


National air quality standards are established for air emissions, including the fine particles and nitrogen dioxide that come from diesel exhaust emissions.


National air quality standards are set to protect population health, and those standards are monitored very closely. In this city we are fortunate to have a better air quality than many cities elsewhere in the world. I know that there are many cities in South America and parts of Asia that have very poor air quality. We have a high standard of monitoring here in this country. Victoria's air quality is continuously under review, and that monitoring will take into account the latest evidence in the recent studies about which Ms Hartland spoke.


As I have mentioned, the air quality here in Victoria is far better than in some other cities around the world. Victoria's air quality is continuously monitored by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria through its monitoring stations in Melbourne, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley. Overall I would have to say again that Victoria's air quality is good. As Ms Hartland highlighted, monitoring of diesel engine emissions in major transport corridors is undertaken by EPA Victoria, and it shows that these standards are being met.


With those few words, I would like to take note of Ms Hartland's motion and say that the government will not be opposing the motion.

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