DIESEL DANGERS: SOUTHERN CROSS AIR QUALITY CONCERNS

Located at the eastern edge of Melbourne's CBD, Southern Cross Station is a hub for regional trains, coaches, and the airport shuttle. Workers and commuters have long held concerns about the volume of diesel fumes from this activity however, Southern Cross Pty Ltd, which oversees the management of the station, had closely guarded the exact level of exposure.

Recently obtained documents, through a Freedom of Information request made by the ABC reveal that Southern Cross Station has some of the poorest air quality in the city. Data reveals high levels of diesel fumes going back up to 14 years that pose health risks, especially for vulnerable groups and employees based at the station. Southern Cross Pty Ltd appears to have been aware of the high levels for years, yet inadequate controls were implemented despite workers reporting symptoms consistent with diesel fume exposure.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classifies diesel exhaust as carcinogenic to humans. There is no safe level of diesel fumes, but the lower the levels the fewer occupational diseases across a population. Australia currently lacks a workplace exposure standard for diesel exhaust, and in its absence the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists guidelines recommend that exposure to DPM is kept below 0.1 mg/m3 time-weighted average over 8 hours and the EU's standard is set at 0.05 mg/m3. The ACTU and other have submitted that even this is too high, calling on State and Federal Governments to agree to a Standard of 0.01mg/m3. Whilst the data is difficult to decipher it would appear that the proposed limit was frequently surpassed.

The finding around one particular pollutant, nitrogen dioxide released in diesel fumes, is particularly concerning. Current workplace standards are 3,000 parts per billion averaged over eight hours. These haven't changed in more than 30 years although in 2020 Safe Work Australia did propose to lower the Standard to 200 parts per billion. In certain parts of the Station over the last 12 years the nitrogen oxide levels have averaged over 1,200  parts per billion averaged over 24 hours.

Air quality has increased in recent years due to engineering and administrative controls, but more work remains to be done and it fails to address the long term exposure to which so many workers and commuters have already been exposed.

Visit our werbsite's Diesel webpage to learn more

Read the ABC article here.

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