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The inequity of this silent killer

  • 26 November 2018
When our kids were little, our family moved to Hanoi for my partner’s job. After we’d settled in to our new neighbourhood of Tay Ho (Westlake), we enjoyed walking the streets and admiring the beauty of the city. Hanoi is set around a number of lakes and filled with historic buildings and old winding laneways that are too narrow for cars. It is also surprisingly green. Plants grow on every available square inch, crammed into tiny pockets of dirt and pots.

But we hadn’t been there long until we begun bemoaning the frequency of foggy days and waiting hopefully for the rare clear days when Westlake would shine blue and we could see clearly over the rooftops from our sixth-story terrace.

I can’t remember exactly when I admitted to myself that it wasn’t fog that was obscuring visibility. But once I had fully acknowledged the extent of the airborne pollution, I felt a lot less keen on living in Hanoi with young children.

So we moved back to Australia.

The thing is that most people in Hanoi do not have this option open to them, especially not the poorest. They can’t leave, no matter how poor the air quality. Like the effects of climate change and water contamination, airborne pollution is an issue of environmental justice, because it disproportionately affects those with the least capacity to move — the poor, the marginalised, and those, such as Indigenous peoples, with a significant relationship to place.

And this is not just an issue overseas.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) recently released their report into air pollution in Australia. The Dirty Truth documents the pollution index of every postcodes in Australia and the results are shocking. A full 90 per cent of the burden of air pollution falls on low to middle income households, while just 0.1 per cent falls on those with the highest income.


"The ACF point out the disproportionate power of fossil fuel lobby groups as compared to low-income and minority communities, who have few advocates at the national level. What they don’t mention is the deliberate efforts by government to strip these communities of the few advocates they do have."  

And this pollution kills. An estimated 3,000 Australians are dying prematurely from urban air pollution every year, and many more are suffering from higher rates of illness such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other chronic pulmonary diseases.

The overwhelming majority (91 per cent) of all air