By Gary Blaschke OAM, community disability advocate, NSW central coast
‘A lot of it [the downside of living close to coal-fired power stations] has been swept under the carpet,’ says Gary Blaschke. ‘If pollution was purple, people would be up in arms. Because we often can’t see it – whether it’s in the air or in the ground – many people don’t even think about it.’
Gary is particularly concerned about fly ash. ‘It’s a byproduct of burning coal. They filter the fly ash when it comes out of the stacks, but there’s a bulk amount that gets stored, put away somewhere.’
He says the ash dams adjacent to the coal-fired power station in Port Augusta, South Australia, are now drying out, leaving the ash, laden with heavy metals and toxic materials, to be swept up by the wind and dispersed all over the town.
‘We need to know how long these ash dams are going to be here on the Central Coast. Are they going to expand? Where are they going to put this fly ash in the future? The dams are already overflowing into Lake Macquarie every time we have high downfalls.’
Gary wants to know what will happen to the dams once the power station operator caps them with 650mm of dirt. He expects the land to be totally remediated before houses are allowed to be built on the land, as is proposed in the Central Coast Regional Plan 2036.
Gary suspects a long stretch of dying trees along the main road outside Delta Electricity’s Vales Point power station has been poisoned by leaks and overflows from the nearby ash dam. ‘If it gets under the highway here it will go into the Tuggerah Lakes system. We need to have some soil sampling done and we need better air monitoring,’ he says.
‘There are 20-odd official air monitoring sites in the Hunter Valley and Newcastle area, there are 24 in Sydney, there are eight in the Illawarra. We’ve got just one on the central coast – and that is 25km away from the actual power stations.’
He says asthma is a problem in the community. ‘I’ve had locals who have lived here all their lives say their children seem to have been born with asthma. They grew up. One of them moved to America and he didn’t have any asthma from then on. He comes back for holidays and he gets asthma again instantly.
‘Self-monitoring is no way to go. We’ve already proven they’re not using the proper processes. We can’t trust the system.’