Fine particle pollution - coastal NSW


ANSTO has been tracking and publishing data on fine particle pollution from key sites around Australia, and internationally, for more than 20 years.  


To view data on fine particle pollution from key sites along the New South Wales (Australia) coast, click the marker on the map. Select the year from the drop down list that appears below the map and add or remove items in the graph by checking or unchecking the boxes.





Explanation of terms used in the graph

You can find an explanation of the terms used in the graph above on our page Explanation of Aerosol Sampling Terms.


Context and background 

Rapid population growth has created a concurrent rise in fine particle pollution, generated by industry, trucks, coal-fired power stations, cars and other man-made sources.


Nature also generates fine particle pollution in the form of sea spray and wind-blown soil, dramatically illustrated in the September 2009 dust storms that hit Sydney and other areas. 


While the human eye cannot see these fine particles - defined as particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns (one micron being one millionth of a metre) - high concentrations of them reduce visibility.


They also play a key role in climate change as they are very efficient in scattering solar radiation back into space. These fine particles can cause significant health problems, as the human nose and throat are inefficient at filtering them out, meaning they can penetrate deep into the lungs.


ANSTO plays a lead role in measuring and characterising these fine particles from a range of locations around Australia and internationally. The work is carried out by the Ion Beam Analysis (IBA) group within the Institute for Environmental Research. Also referred to as the Aerosol Sampling Program, samples are collected twice a week from key sites across New South Wales and other states. This data is utilised by local councils, State EPAs, industry groups and Australian universities.


The science of monitoring fine particle pollution 


Fine particle samples are collected on thin stretched Teflon filters and analysed using Ion Beam Analysis, which is a fast, sensitive and non-destructive way of establishing chemical concentrations within the filter.


The filters are characterised by their weight and elemental composition. More than 20 different elements - including carbon, silicon, iron, sulphur and lead can be identified. The following animation illustrates the process.


  • Air is drawn through the air inlet via a narrow gap under the weatherproof cap.
  • It passes down through the stack tube and into the cyclone.
  • After entering the cyclone it begins to spiral where centrifugal forces remove the heavy particles.
  • The lighter PM2.5 particles then continue travelling upwards where they collide with the filter surface and become trapped. After a set time the filters are removed from the cyclone and analysed using IBA techniques.


Fine Particle Monitoring in Asia 


ANSTO has also been involved in the Asia-Pacific Aerosol Database (A-PAD) project as part of the Regional Co-operative Agreement (RCA) under the International Atomic Agency (IAEA).


Visible atmospheric haze is a major problem for many countries in the Asia region.


Identifying the contributing sources of this haze is the first critical step towards developing strategies for reducing or eliminating this pollution.


A-PAD is the result of a successful 14 country particulate matter (PM) project involving weekly (or biweekly) fine particle (PM2.5) and coarse particle (PM10) 24-hour sampling that spans 10 years (2000-2010). Fine particles are defined as particulate matter with aerodynamic diameters less than 2.5μm, typically referred to as PM2.5. Coarse particles are defined as the particulate matter with aerodynamic diameters between 2.5 and 10μm. The term PM10 is the collective term for referring to all particulate matter with aerodynamic diameters less than 10 μm (i.e. the sum of both the fine and coarse particles).


The 14 countries included Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.


Already the information collected by atmospheric science experts is proving to be an invaluable resource for developing new air pollution models and pollution reduction strategies based on better quantification of local source contributors, as well as the influence of sources like long range transport on the particle concentrations at a site.


Learn more about the results. A subset of this database has now been released online and is available at:


A related ANSTO led research effort known as the Aerosol Sampling Program (ASP) has been running for almost 20 years. Aerosol samples have be routinely collected in a number of Australian sites as well Asian sites. The samples are analysed at ANSTO by means of IBA techniques and results interpreted and reported every year as a monthly summary sheet. The following links are provided for the 2011 summary sheets for Manila, Philippines and Hanoi, Vietnam sites and several Australian sites here.


Want to keep updated? 


Aerosol Sampling Program (ASP) Newsletters are published regularly to keep interested parties up to date with recent analyses and results. Each newsletter focuses on specific data from selected sites around Australia and can be downloaded here.