Diesel and non-road engines
The impacts of diesel and two-stroke engine emissions on health were a
key concern raised throughout this inquiry. Petroleum diesel (diesel) is a
fractional distillate of crude oil widely used as fuel in industrial, transport
and domestic machinery.
Health impacts of diesel emissions
The potential negative health impacts of diesel emissions are now well
known. The WHO has listed diesel emissions as a Group 1 carcinogen.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO body that
coordinates and conducts research on the causes of human cancer, reclassified
diesel engine exhaust as a Group 1 carcinogen based on extensive evidence that
exposure is associated with increased risk of lung cancer.
The committee heard from the ILAQH that '[diesel] is not a likely cause – it is
a cause of cancer.'
Diesel exhausts release benzene, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide,
nitrogen dioxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and particulate matter, all
of which have known adverse health effects.
Occupational Health and Safety
Evidence received by the committee pointed towards a potential shortfall
in regulating exposure to diesel emissions in an occupational health and safety
context. The AMA noted for instance:
Occupational and workplace standards for hazardous air
pollution are inconsistent and poorly enforced and major sources of hazardous
air pollutants are not currently regulated, as indicated by the lack of
standards for off-road diesel engines.
Dr Adrian Barnett provided evidence to the committee that certain groups
such as miners and workers at drive-through businesses may be exposed to unsafe
levels of diesel emissions.
Unfortunately there have not been sufficient studies undertaken to adequately
assess the impacts of emissions on these workers who are often more vulnerable
due to being adolescents with developing respiratory systems, and to date
industry has not been willing to work with researchers to better assess whether
a problem exists.
The committee recommends that Safe Work Australia undertake research
regarding the exposure of workers in the hospitality, transport and mining
industry to diesel emissions.
On-road diesel vehicles
On-road diesel vehicles have become increasingly popular in recent years
as the price of petrol has risen and consumers have sought products with
potentially lower recurrent running costs. Since 2006 the proportion of diesel
vehicles in the national fleet has increased from 10.6 per cent to 14.7 per
cent. Passenger vehicles and light commercial vehicles were the major
contributors to this increase.
The efficiency of these diesel vehicles is regulated by the Australian
Design Rules (ADR). ADR 30 stipulates that new vehicles produced on or after 1
January 2002 adhere to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Regulation No. 24.
It was reported to the committee that despite emission controls on vehicles,
they remain a source of dangerous particulate matter:
A major source of particle in Australia are vehicle exhausts.
Particles are created by both diesel and petrol engines, and the constituents
of vehicle exhaust particles are particularly damaging to health as they often
contain metals and sulfates. Filters on modern vehicles stop some particles
escaping, but the filters mainly stop larger particles and the smaller
particles – which are potentially more damaging to health – still escape in
It was reported to the committee that motor vehicles – particularly
diesel powered – are the largest single contributor to UFP in the urban areas.
Studies assessing UFP emissions in Los Angeles and Barcelona found that on-road
vehicles are responsible for 43 per cent and between 54 and 86 per cent of
UFP emissions respectively.
Modelling from urban southeast Queensland showed that although diesel engines
comprise around 6 per cent of vehicle kilometres travelled, they accounted for
more than 50 per cent of daily particle emissions.
The committee heard that although significant progress had been made in
regulating emissions from vehicles, there are still significant public health
gains to be realised through further emission reductions.
The NSW EPA reported to the committee that 'retrofitting existing diesel
vehicles with exhaust treatment devices is a cost-effective strategy to reduce
air pollution emissions', and reported that they are currently working to with
private enterprise and other stakeholders to retrofit fleet vehicles.
The committee understands that soon-to-be-released modelling undertaken
by the Victorian EPA and the CSIRO indicate that in Victoria particle emissions
from on-road diesel engines will be 'significantly reduced' by 2030.
The committee heard a suggestion, based on international experience, to
introduce anti-idling laws:
In the US and Massachusetts, they have laws such as you are
not allowed to keep your engine running for more than five minutes and then
there are some restrictions, if you are a courier and things like that going in
and out of buildings. Again, it is a very simple thing. I pass a school
everyday and you see the school buses with the engines on and all the kids next
to it. Those are some of our most vulnerable people standing right next to a
source that we could just simply turn off. Anti-idling laws are worth
investigating. You might not have to do it for long. If you look at utes these
days, every single one of them now has a netting over the back. This time last
year none of them did. They said, 'You have to put netting now on your ute and
we are going to give out fines if you do not,' and now all the utes have them.
So, potentially, if there was an anti-idling law, you would hand out a couple
of fines and then it would become the norm for people to switch off their
Off-road and industrial diesel engines
Diesel fuel is widely used for fuel for large machinery such as mining
equipment. There are currently no emissions standards for the off-road diesel
In 2010 the Cleaner Non-road Diesel Engine Project – Identification and
Recommendation of Measures to Support the Uptake of Cleaner Non-road Diesel
Engines in Australia – Final Report (ENVIRON Report) was released. Prepared by
international environmental consulting firm ENVIRON Australia on behalf of
the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and the Commonwealth
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, the ENVIRON Report
included a number of key findings including:
Diesel engines are not manufactured locally but are imported into
Australia either as standalone units or as a component of equipment. In 2008
about 74 000 non-road diesel engines/equipment were imported into Australia;
The non-road diesel sector (excluding rail and marine transport)
consumes a similar volume of automotive diesel oil as the on-road diesel
Nationally, non-road diesel engines are estimated to emit around
13 500 tonnes of PM10 per annum; a similar magnitude to emissions
from the on-road vehicle sector;
In Australia there are no regulations or standards in place that
limit emissions from non-road diesel engines. Regulated emission limits for
non-road engines have been in force in the US and EU since the mid-1990s.
China, India, Japan and Canada also have regulated emissions limits for
When emission profiles of new non-road diesel engines sold in
Australia was assessed against US and EU standards, it was found that
Australian machinery was behind emission limits apply to comparable non-road
engines sold in those jurisdictions;
Only five per cent of engines were reported by industry as
meeting the 2008 US standards;
PM10 emission reductions achievable through compliance
with latest US standards are estimated to be between 5600 and 10 200 tonnes per
annum to 2020, increasing to 7300 to 14 100 tonnes per annum but 2030; and
Annual environmental health benefits associated with PM10
and NOX emission reductions are estimated to be in the range $2.5 to
$4.7 billion (2008 AUD) by 2030.
Diesel emissions are created through a number of various sources such as
mining, transport and recreation; these and others are discussed below.
The committee heard that the emissions from diesel engines, particularly
in mines, can contribute significantly to poor air quality with approximately
one litre of diesel fuel used per tonne of coal produced.
The NSW EPA reported to the committee that in the Upper Hunter region non-road
diesel equipment is responsible for 13.2 per cent of PM2.5 and 3.1
per cent of PM10.
The committee was assured by the NSWMC that they are working with
regulatory bodies to better understand and minimise mining related diesel
The New South Wales Minerals Council and the mining industry
are fully cooperating with the EPA to better understand PM2.5 emissions from
diesel. The industry, through the Australian Coal Association Research
Program—which is a well-established research program—is also commissioning
pieces of work to invest in technologies that reduce emissions from diesel
equipment on site.
Professor Ristovski from the ILAQH explained some of the technical
difficulties in limiting emissions from subterranean diesel powered coalmining
There is a standard but the biggest problem with coalmines is
that all the machines used there have to be explosion proof. And to make a
machine explosion proof you cannot use the latest technology and the newest
diesel engines. There are certain technical issues with them. So, essentially,
the standards that the engines have to comply with are much behind – several
generations behind – the standards that the above-ground engines comply with.
In simple words, they are much dirtier than engines that would be allowed on
The NSW EPA is currently assessing ways to reduce emissions from
non-road vehicles and equipment at coal mines, and that:
If warranted, it is proposed that coal mines will be
required, via [Pollution Reduction Programs] attached to their environment
protection licences, to take feasible measures to reduce diesel emissions.
Diesel trains are extensively used in the transportation of goods from the
site of their production to ports which tend to be in heavily populated areas
such as Brisbane and Newcastle. For historical reasons, train lines also tend
to pass through smaller regional communities.
The committee heard concerns from resident groups about the health
impacts of particulate emissions from diesel trains moving through communities.
Newcastle's Professor Higginbotham reported:
When we learned that the coal industry was aspiring to
transport up to 330,000,000 tonnes into the Port of Newcastle, we became
gravely concerned that this would bring industrial workplace emissions into the
homes and schools along the rail corridor. As James mentioned, there are 32,000
residents who live within half a kilometre of the rail line from the port up to
Rutherford. In fact, there are 23,000 schoolchildren who also attend school
within this zone...What would be the fine particulate and diesel emissions from
the 108,000 yearly train movements needed to get this amount of coal into
Dr Jeremijenko of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and
Environmental Medicine suggested to the committee that diesel trains could be
replaced by electric locomotives in heavily built up areas to prevent diesel
Marine engines, recreational diesel
engines and appliances
Diesel engines are widely used in recreational engines, small power
generators, and domestic appliances such as lawn mowers. These engines are not
subject to any standards and emit a disproportionately large quantity of
emissions compared to their size. For example, despite their small size, a lack
of emissions standards means that an Australian lawnmower may emit up to 40
times the pollution of a small car per hour.
Although the contribution of any one source may seem minor, when scaled nationally
the emissions from unregulated outboard engines are significant as highlighted
by the Australian Marine Engine Council (AMEC):
Outboard engines currently push out unnecessary pollutants
directly into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, our creeks, our rivers and
our drinking water supplies—and then it bubbles into the atmosphere. The
department's own cost-benefit analysis shows that regulations on outboards
would save the environment more than 30,000 tonnes of hydrocarbons alone. The
senators from Queensland will remember the Pacific Adventurer oil spill in
Moreton Bay, which was 250 tonnes. In other words, what comes out of outboards
is equivalent to a Pacific Adventurer oil spill every three days. Atmospheric
pollutants will also be cut. Emissions standards will mean 40,000 tonnes less
carbon dioxide, less carbon smog, from the hydrocarbons bubbling up from the
It was reported to the committee that there are no technological
impediments to introducing tighter emissions as:
The clean products are on the shelf, they are being sold now.
They are 50 per cent of the market. The products are on the shelves, they are
in the brochures, the mechanics are trained, the spare parts are here–
The committee heard that regulating small engine emissions is a
'low-hanging fruit' when it comes to improving air quality as there is support
from industry and the public for better, more stringent regulation.
It was argued by AMEC that there has not been regulation of small diesel
engines because 'there has been no political will to push it'.
As a result of this lack of political impetus, the committee heard that:
Bureaucrats have taken it from an easy-to-finish project to a
national plan for clean air, which will take until 2020 at least to make a
It was suggested by AMEC that Australia should move immediately to the
current United States' standard for small diesel engines as those engines
already exist, are readily available, and represent the world's toughest
Regulating off-road diesel emissions
The AMA argued that in response to this finding by the WHO it is
necessary to focus on introducing standards for off-road diesel emissions.
It was recognised by the NEPC that Australia lags behind international
competitors when it comes to regulating harmful emissions from off-road diesel
sources. As noted by the NEPC:
Regulated emissions limits for [non-road diesel engines] have
been enforced in the US and EU since the mid-1990s, and more recently in
Canada, Japan, China and India.
The NSW EPA highlighted non-road diesel engines and small spark ignition
engines (outboard motors and gardening equipment) as significant emitters that
should be addressed under the NPCA.
The committee heard that the NSW EPA supports the develop of standards for new
As part of the national process that is going on for the
National Plan for Clean Air, we are very keen to see the development of
standards for new diesel equipment.
The evidence appears to be incontrovertible that diesel emissions are
harmful to human health and should be minimised as far as possible through
regulation. In a number of sectors the technology already exists to radically
improve emission profiles from diesel engines. While the committee accepts that
in specific cases such as underground coal mining there are genuine impediments
to using more efficient diesel technology, on the whole the committee is of the
view that off-road and small engine diesel emissions should be regulated.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth develop a national
emissions standard for diesel engines.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth implement a national
emissions standard for small non-road engines equivalent to the US EPA
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