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The coastal capital of Southern Australia state, Adelaide air quality is generally healthy by global standards, although like much of Australia, the city is prone to experience short term extreme air pollution from bushfires and dust storms. The main pollutant of concern in Adelaide is particulate matter, which describes airborne particle pollution with a diameter of less than 2.5 or 10 microns (abbreviated to PM2.5 or PM10 respectively).1 Particle pollution can be generated from year-round background sources such as vehicle emissions and industry, in addition to short-term events such as wildfires. Particle pollution is recognised as particularly hazardous to human health, since due to the tiny size of these particles, they can reach deep into the human system once inhaled, causing a range of health effects affecting both the heart and respiratory system. Therefore, even at low levels, exposure to particle pollution should be minimised where possible.
Real-time Adelaide air quality information can be viewed at the top of this page within the dynamic Adelaide air quality map, which also includes live wildfire updates. These, along with a 7-day Adelaide air quality forecast can be followed at any time using the IQAir AirVisual air pollution app.
Adelaide is one of the cleaner cities within Australia for PM2.5 pollution, ranking as the country’s 75th most polluted city for PM2.5 during 2019, out of a total of 95 measured cities included in IQAir’s 2019 World Air Quality Report.2 Its annual average PM2.5 concentration in 2019 was 5.9 μg/m3, which meets both Australia’s annual target for PM2.5 (below 8 μg/m3), and the World Health Organisation’s annual PM2.5 target (below 10 μg/m3). Adelaide’s 2019 average marks a slight decrease from 2018, when its annual PM2.5 averaged 6.5 μg/m3. For context, this makes Adelaide Australia’s 2nd cleanest state capital for PM2.5 pollution in 2019, after Tasmania’s capital Hobart air quality (4.4 μg/m3). Other state capitals experienced more particle pollution while still achieving Australia’s annual PM2.5 target of 8 μg/m3, including Perth (6.4 μg/m3) and Melbourne (6.5 μg/m3); while state capitals exceeding Australia’s air quality target were Brisbane (8.1 μg/m3), Sydney (10.1 μg/m3) and Canberra (15 μg/m3).2 The higher levels of PM pollution in these states may be partly linked to the severe Australian wildfires during the summer months of 2019-2020, which affected New South Wales air quality, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria air quality most severely.
The main year-round sources of Adelaide air pollution include vehicle emissions, domestic solid fuel heaters, industrial and commercial processes, fires and small engines.1 Emissions from transport have been identified as one area where particular air quality improvements could be made, since the use of private transport is high among Adelaide residents. Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of motor vehicle ownership, with more than 90% of homes owning at least one registered private vehicle.1 Over 80% of Southern Australia residents travel by private motor vehicle, contrasted with public and active transport (such as walking and cycling) representing only 12% and 3% respectively.3 Furthermore, approximately 18% of journeys made by private car cover less than 5 kilometers distance, with 20% travelling less than 5-10 kilometers.1 These short journeys could easily be substituted by walking or cycling, which would reduce air pollutant emissions.
Aside from background pollution, more extreme peaks in Adelaide air pollution can occur due to bushfires and dust storms.
Australia has long has a fire season, with hotter and drier conditions during the summer months leading to some bushfires around the country. These bushfires are often natural, for example starting from a lightning strike, or they can be human-made through either planned burning or arson. Due to several months of record-breaking temperatures and droughts, Australia’s summer of 2019-2020 experienced particularly severe wildfires, which came to be known colloquially as the “black summer”. Adelaide was affected during the 2019-2020 wildfires, when bushfires spread nearby the city, and it also experienced Adelaide smoke blowing in from other nearby areas. These included a fire that spread across fields in Beaufort, around 100km north of the city during November, and the Cudlee Creek fire which erupted on 20 December 2019 in the mountains just east of Adelaide.4 This latter fire blazed through 57,000 acres of land, destroyed over 80 homes, and killed at least one person. Another casualty to the fire’s destruction were over 60 different vineyards in the Adelaide Hills region.5
While it is likely that Australia will experience more summer bushfires in future, some experts suggest that the subsequent 3 to 5 years following the “black summer” may not be so severe, since so much “fuel” was used up in the form of plant material, which has not yet been restored.6
Even at low levels, exposure to air pollution has been shown to pose significant human health hazards. Despite Australia air quality as a whole being relatively healthy in comparison to other countries, its urban air pollution is estimated to contribute 1% towards Australia’s total burden of disease, with 900 to 2000 premature deaths per year attributable to traffic-related air pollutants alone.7,8 In contrast, the air pollution caused from domestic solid fuel heaters within South Australia, which generate particle pollution, is estimated to cost the state $153 million AUS (equivalent to $111 million USD) in annual health damages.1
While Adelaide air quality management has successfully decreased some pollutants over time, other pollution sources are expected to increase in severity due to predicted natural and demographic changes. Levels of PM10 throughout Southern Australia are shown to have decreased over time since 2005.1 However, certain trends are expected to worsen some health risks posed by air pollution. Population growth is one factor anticipated to increase health risks from Adelaide air pollution, due to growing demand for domestic heating, in addition to the growing number of vulnerable people generally, such as children, the elderly and those with existing health conditions. Additionally, declining rainfall and rising temperatures as part of climate change are also anticipated to intensify Adelaide air pollution, both due to increased risk of bushfires, and hotter, sunnier weather leading to more favourable conditions for ozone to form and linger.1
Adelaide air quality is managed by the South Australia state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who works to meet the broader national objectives of Australia’s National Clean Air Agreement. The South Australia EPA manages 6 air pollution sensors around Adelaide, and communicates their readings to the public using an Adelaide air quality index. The Adelaide AQI reports air quality in different color-coded categories, which correlate to the Australian national air quality standards for various pollutants. Each AQI category indicates a different level of health risk and advisories for citizens to protect their health. These range from 0-33, “Very good”, up to 150+, “Very poor”.9 In this way, the Southern Australian government strives to make its air quality information easy to understand and act upon, to protect human health.
+ Article resources
 South Australia EPA. “State of the Environment Summary Report, 2018”. South Australia EPA website, November, 2018.
 IQAir. “2019 World Air Quality Report”. IQAir website, March 18, 2020.
 Ting Xia et al. “Traffic-related air pollution and health co-benefits of alternative transport in Adelaide, South Australia”. Environment International 74, January, 2015: pp. 281-290. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.10.004
 BBC News. “Australia fires: Sea of fire races across field near Adelaide”. BBC website, November 21, 2019.
 Augustus Weed. “Australian Wildfires Scorch a Third of Vineyards in Adelaide Hills”. Wine Spectator, January 3, 2020.
 Kevin Tolhurst. “It’s 12 months since the last bushfire season began, but don’t expect the same this year”. The Conversation, June 10, 2020.
 S. Begg et al. “Burden of disease and injury in Australia (2003)”. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007.
 Bureau of Transport & Regional Economics (BITRE). “Health impacts of transport emissions in Australia: economic costs”. BITRE, 2005.
 South Australia EPA. “Air quality monitoring”. South Australia EPA website, n.d.