Griffith residents are calling for air quality monitoring in Griffith after a blanket of smoke sparked confusion about who is responsible for policing pollution.
A NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) spokesman said regulation of farm “burn-offs” was the responsibility of local government but Griffith City Council’s director of sustainable development, Neil Southorn, said otherwise.
“Griffith City Council has no specific powers to act in regard to agricultural smoke or burn-off, or act on the subsequent air quality issues,” Mr Southorn said. “Councils can only act on domestic refuse burning and smoke from wood-fired heaters. It is unclear why the EPA say otherwise in regards to agricultural burn-off.”
The EPA spokesman said farms did not fall under the Protection of the Environment Operations (POEO) Act and the responsibility for regulation belonged to councils.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) monitors air quality across the state, but in the south-west only Wagga and Albury are monitored, according to an OEH spokeswoman.
“These stations are positioned in major population centres to collect data on particle pollution that can provide a good indication of the air quality likely to be experienced by most people,” she said.
From April 1 to April 10, only four days in Wagga were rated within acceptable levels for ‘PM10’ particles, the type commonly associated with smoke. The other six days exceeded National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) standards, five of them were rated “poor” and the sixth was “hazardous”.
Mr Southorn said the Rural Fire Service (RFS) requested a meeting with representatives from council, the EPA, the RFS and the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia to determine what measures could be put in place to reduce the impacts of burn-offs.
“Council is committed to to a collaborative approach and supports measures which will benefit the community and local farmers,” Mr Southorn said. “In the long term, council is keen to hear from businesses that believe there are options for use of stubble other than burning.”
Griffith businessman Paul Pierotti said council had an obligation to ensure the community was safe.
“When pollution gets to the levels we’ve seen then council needs to act,” Mr Pierotti said. “Perhaps they need to monitor air quality themselves and provide that information to residents. We can’t just ignore this problem, it’s not an inconvenience it’s a significant health risk.”
Mr Pierotti said every business had a responsibility for their actions.
“I’m not telling people what to do on their farms, but they need to be burning off at the right time,” Mr Pierotti said. “If your actions can in any way harm the health of others you need to address it.”
Murrumbidgee Local Health District advised people with chronic respiratory conditions living in areas affected by smoke to stay indoors if levels of pollution increased.