Standing up for the community
In the mid-1980s, when the NSW electricity commission wanted to add two new coal-fired power stations on the state’s central coast, Mike Campbell was president of the ratepayers’ association.
‘In the Lake Munmorah area particularly, between the two existing power stations – Munmorah and Vales Point – children were suffering asthma. The people of Munmorah had been screaming about this.’
Mike heard about a study by three professors from Newcastle that identified the area between the two power stations as having critical levels of sulfur dioxide. Mike set about getting his hands on a copy of the professors’ research.
‘Once I had that document I then proceeded to hunt out the doctors of Munmorah. They were kind enough to verify what the community had said – that asthma was twice the national average for children and bronchitis was higher in old people. I asked them to put it on paper, which they did. We presented those two explosive documents to the commission in the middle of their assessment of the two new power station proposals. When this hit the table, from left field, it blew them out of the water. The upshot was they decided to pull back from the proposals.’
Thirty years later Mike remains concerned about the sulfur dioxide, heavy metals and what he describes as ‘this terrific torrent of materials that emanates from these power stations and which the community absorbs’.
He rates the NSW EPA’s performance on protecting the community from air pollution as ‘poor’. ‘We’ve still got only one monitoring station in this region, apart from the power stations’ self-monitoring,’ he says.
Why are politicians reluctant to take up this issue? ‘The coal industry is very powerful,’ Mike says. ‘You’re seeing them fight back now. Even bringing coal into the federal parliament. The coal lobby is massive. The Minerals Council of NSW is a very powerful body. (The companies) give money to the parties.’