Your environment

EPA protecting the environment and human health

Why does EPA protect the environment and human health?

Human health and wellbeing are fundamentally linked to the state of the environment – from the air we breathe, to the water we drink or swim in, to the land we grow our food and build our homes on, and through our experiences of the sounds and smells around us. EPA seeks to protect the environment for the benefit of Victorians now and in the future. This includes protecting human health and wellbeing, maintaining healthy ecological systems and protecting the value our natural environments provide for recreation. Together these support a livable and prosperous Victoria.

We aim to do this by achieving the environmental outcomes listed in our 5 Year Plan – clean air, healthy water, safe land and minimal disturbance from noise and odour.

Our core role is regulating pollution and this is our contribution to protecting the Victorian environment and its link to human health and wellbeing.

How does EPA protect the environment and human health?

EPA protects human health and wellbeing through its laws and activities as part of the broader environmental portfolio.

Our activities cover a range of environmental segments including air, water, land, odour and noise. The connection between environment and human health varies slightly between segments; so too does our approach to protecting human health and wellbeing for each segment.

  • Roles and responsibilities - quick reference
  • The key ways we protect human health and wellbeing are explained below.

    Protecting the environment and human health + Expand all Collapse all

    • Protecting ‘beneficial uses’

      The Environment Protection Act and related laws define the aspects of the environment that require protection as ‘beneficial uses’ of the environment. These are the uses of the environment that Victorians value. They include those that are ‘conducive to public benefit, welfare, safety, health or aesthetic enjoyment’. EPA uses a range of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to protect these beneficial uses.

      EPA does not solely focus on potential harm to people. Maintaining healthy ecological systems, such as in our waterways, is essential for protecting beneficial uses of the environment. Beneficial uses may relate to human consumption, use, recreation or enjoyment of the environment. They can also include maintenance of natural ecosystems as an end in itself.

    • Monitoring, assessing and public reporting

      EPA measures and reports on the condition of the environment, which helps us provide information on environmental quality and guidance on levels of protection for people and safe use of the environment. Our monitoring programs – particularly those for air and water quality – are great examples of how we do this.

      We assess environmental health through environmental quality ‘indicators’ and ‘objectives’. These include measurable things such as the levels of pollutants or foreign substances in the air, land or water, noise levels, or plant growth and biodiversity. Some of these indicators, such as those for air toxics, are related to human health, wellbeing or use of the environment.

    • Setting standards

      EPA sets standards that focus on key causes of environmental harm in order to protect our sensitive environment and human health, and to drive improvements. Many of these standards are set as environmental quality objectives through State environment protection policies, or as management controls through Regulations and guidelines. We use these standards to protect the beneficial uses of our environment, including human health, wellbeing and amenity.

      EPA provides guidance on how to comply with the law and relevant standards, and how to identify and manage risks. We also gather evidence to support future standards and improved practices. This often involves assessing impact on human health, particularly for noise and air quality.

    • Approvals

      EPA assesses and approves a range of activities and premises, both prior to their construction and during their operation, through our works approval and licensing process. This helps to ensure higher-risk activities will meet the appropriate standards and to protect the environment, human health, wellbeing and amenity.

      Through this process, EPA provides and encourages public participation in our decision making. In some cases when EPA is considering an application for approval we may require a human health risk assessment (HHRA). This position statement outlines when EPA may use its discretionary powers to require applicants to submit a HHRA or other relevant human health assessment documents.

    • Compliance and enforcement prioritisation

      A core function of EPA is to monitor and enforce compliance with the law – to detect and respond to a problem or risk before it leads to an impact on the environment and human health.

      EPA prioritises its compliance and enforcement efforts towards the biggest risk(s) of harm to the environment, human health, safety and welfare. This may mean not all potential harms can be acted on. EPA gives greatest priority to more severe environmental or health harms. For example, where there is a dust issue causing respiratory/cardiovascular impacts or exceeding standards for particulate matter, EPA may need to prioritise its efforts to prevent or remedy this harm over a dust issue depositing dust onto cars or clothes washing.

      Some pollution, such as air pollution or contaminated land, can pose a direct risk of harm to human health. For odour and noise, the degree of harm to human health, wellbeing and amenity can vary widely. Some types of pollution tend to interfere with the community’s enjoyment of the environment without posing broader health problems.

      EPA uses enforcement to require offenders to minimise damage or risk and take all reasonable steps to remediate impacts. Where appropriate, we may also apply sanctions.

      See more on EPA’s compliance and enforcement policy, risk-based prioritisation and how we rate harm to human health and wellbeing on our Compliance and enforcement policy page.

    • Shared jurisdiction

      Other government regulators and agencies have key responsibilities in health protection. The Department of Health and local councils have important roles in broader public health protection and promoting improved community health and wellbeing. This is achieved through preventing illness, developing food safety regulations and minimising the impacts of potential health hazards. Their responsibilities also include environmental impacts on human health. The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and associated Regulations are the main basis for protection of public health and wellbeing. Nuisance-related issues associated with this Act are managed by the environmental health areas of local councils.

      EPA works closely with relevant co-regulators and partners to ensure the environment and public health and wellbeing are protected by appropriate standards and decision making. EPA focuses primarily on the environment, but also considers public health and wellbeing where they link to it.

      For example, EPA regulates wastewater discharges to protect the environment and our water quality standards also protect public health and wellbeing. By comparison the Department of Health regulates the supply of safe drinking water with a primary focus on protecting public health and wellbeing.

      EPA’s environmental expertise shapes its contribution to areas of shared jurisdiction. For example, when responding to an emergency event such as an explosion at a factory, EPA may advise on controls to prevent environmental impact, or support emergency services with advice on the spread of pollution and its potential impacts.

      Given that large numbers of people can be affected by environmental impacts, part of EPA’s role includes enabling other regulators and agencies to lead responses to some health, wellbeing and amenity impacts. While EPA sets standards for issues such as residential noise, domestic wood burning and onsite domestic wastewater management, our legislation enables local government to take the lead in regulating and responding to community concerns.

    Page last updated on 21 Nov 2017