Professor Paul Torzillo talks about WestCONnex and health

In future posts, we will provide more information about the health and social impacts of the New M5 project and the weaknesses in how they have been analysed in the EIS.

A key problem is that the Baird LNP government has allowed such a short time for the EIS consultation period, which has fallen over the Summer holidays.  Even for people with expertise, it is hard to  process technical information that is buried in the EIS PDF appendices, each of which is hundreds of pages long. Codes are given to ‘receivers’ ( buildings that fall within the study zone). For the average person, this makes computer generated maps and tables look like a maze of numbers.

Before returning to some of the data in the EIS, People’s M5 EIS highly recommends you read  this transcript of a speech by the well know Sydney respiratory physician Professor Paul Torzillo, who spoke at a Westconnex Action Group forum in August 2015. He provides an easily understood  medical specialist’s perspective on the air quality and other health issues arising from WestCONnex. There is a link to the video of his and other speeches below.

Some brief People’s EIS findings:

  • Hundreds of homes and businesses will be affected by significant noise during construction and/or operation to a level that can damage health; while mitigation is recommended for some, no details are provided. Westconnex will provide no detailed plans until after approval, and in some case until after construction begins.
  • There is growing scientific evidence that excessive noise can damage short and long term health
  • Road pollution is a significant contributor to overall pollution; living or working close to congested roads is a health risk; some roads that would  be negatively affected by the Westconnex New M5 are already polluted.
  • There is strong scientific evidence that air pollution, especially PM 2.5 and PM 10 are linked to increased risks lung disease, impaired lung development, strokes, cancer and other forms of respiratory illness.
  • The EIS acknowledges that Stoney Creek Road, King Georges Road, Campbell Street Euston Road Alexandria  and other roads will become more polluted. In some cases, air pollution is already at unhealthy level.
  • Instead of tackling the issue of Sydney’s pollution, the Baird government is planning tollway after tollway for Sydney. This  will leave many people, especially those in Western Sydney, in a car dependent situation. This is unhealthy.
  • Leightons/CIMIC,  who have been awarded the contract before approval, decided that ventilation stacks should not be filtered although tollway projects in other countries have ventilation stacks which filter emissions. The EIS asserts that there will be very low ‘ negligible’ emissions in local areas from the stacks. One reason engineers give for filtering tunnels  is to protect residents in high buildings or land.  In this project, some residents live on hills and others (e.g. in Arncliffe) live in high buildings. There are experts who say that stack emissions are not safe and should be filtered.
  • Increases in traffic will spill over into other roads and streets but because the traffic modelling only extends to two intersections past the boundaries of the Westconnex project, these increased levels have not been modelled or presented in the EIS.

As well, the assessment of air quality and noise impacts are completely dependent on the traffic modelling. We  have already seen from Chris Standen’s submission that the traffic impacts of the New M5 are extremely uncertain. For this reason, the air, noise, social impacts and health risk assessments cannot be regarded as reliable.


Professor Paul Torzillo

Paul Torzillo speech

Traffic Based Air Pollution

G’day everyone. In cities like Sydney, traffic-based air pollution – which the scientists call TRAP, which I think is pretty prophetic – is a major contributor to total air pollution in the cities, it’s about a third, it’s about 30% of the total air pollution that cities like our experience.

It’s got two main components. The first is what comes out of exhaust emissions, so that’s got compounds like carbon monoxide, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide. It’s got benzenes; it’s got things called hydrocarbons, all of which have got a definite association with cancer.

Then there’s a second component to TRAP, and that’s road dust, fine particles from bitumen and rubber ware, and these two components contribute to this thing that they call “particulate matter”; that just means “stuff in the atmosphere”. It’s all small, some of it’s really small and some of it’s really really small, and that gets absorbed into your lungs and into your body. All these things are bad for health.

There’s overwhelming international evidence now from organisations like WHO that shows that that sort of pollution – if you look at what happens across big cities – it increases the number of heart attacks people have, strokes, it increases deaths from heart disease, deaths from respiratory disease, and there is some new evidence in the most recent WHO publication which says it probably impairs lung growth in children and it makes a contribution to diabetes, so these things on a population basis have a big impact on health.

There are three particularly important ( points) about that. The first is: these are effects that you best see when you study health in big populations. They are not things you see easily if you do a two year study in a few streets in Newtown and/or St Peters. The second thing is that these health effects occur both with long term exposure, and with repeated short term exposure. Again, the most recent WHO evidence suggests that repeated short term exposure has definitely got a health consequence. And the last thing that’s important is there’s no evidence about a “safe” lower level of any of these things. So less is better, but less isn’t safe. So almost all the important agency reports talk about “mitigating health effects”. The commonest word that you see in any of these reports is the word “mitigate”.

Link between busy roads and pollution

So what happens when you get a project like WestConnex? There have been lots of these around the world, what do they do? Well the first thing to know is that the levels of this sort of traffic air pollution are high around busy streets, and they’re high probably for up half a kilometre each side – it depends on the topography and wind direction and various other things.

Projects that involve tunnels redistribute traffic related pollution, so some places might be a bit better off, and other places might be worse off. So the tunnels themselves, the smoke stacks, the entrance points the exit point – all these places are likely to have higher levels, although you will see – and you will see on the website – it is hard to prove this because of a measurement problem that I’ll talk to you about in a second. Importantly when traffic emerges from tunnels, surprisingly, it has to go somewhere. So it goes back on to roads, and when it goes to those roads, then those roads have higher use, higher traffic, higher pollution levels.

Hard to measure health risks of pollution

For a whole host of reasons, it’s incredibly hard to give a precise measure of how risky is it to live near a stack, near a tunnel entry or exit point, near a ventilation shaft, and there’s a whole lot for reasons for that. But that doesn’t refute the fact that the overwhelming evidence is that this traffic related air pollution is bad for health.

Now many people say – and you’ll see this on the websites of every agency involved, that what should be done therefore is to monitor air quality. In fact agencies are very keen on this. But there are a lot of questions. The first is: how many of the components of some of the ones I mentioned are going to be managed? Do you measure them continuously or intermittently? How many monitors do you use? Where are they located? How does the public access this information?

In a really big National Health and Medical Research Council review of tunnel related air pollution, the expert committee in their key summary said, and I quote, “We’d like to comment on how difficult it was to obtain data about some Australian tunnels.” So if a federally funded, National Health and Medical Research Council with eminent scientists can’t access the information, how easy is it going to be for us?

Projects like WestCONnex encourage more traffic

The international experience with road projects such as these is that they encourage more traffic. There are more cars, and more people use them. This is bad for population health in Sydney, not just Newtown and St Peters. Traffic and roads have an impact on health. Aside from the ones I’ve mentioned, they reduce our ability to do a bit of walking or a bit of cycling, even as part of what your daily movement has to be. The big game in here is not monitoring, it’s diverting these billions of dollars from these sorts of systems into safe and efficient public transport systems and that’s what we should be concentrating on.