This is a significant win for the local community and those who have fought many years for the right to know what the Lake Macquarie community is breathing.
Air pollution is a big issue in Lake Macquarie, where residents live close to Australia’s biggest coal-fired power station, Eraring, and one of the oldest coal-fired power stations, Vales Point.
The Eraring and Vales Point power stations operate in a region with a rapidly growing population, yet there is currently no independent air pollution monitoring within 20 kilometres of these two coal-fired power stations. By contrast, the NSW government operates more than a dozen monitors in the Hunter Valley. Data from these monitoring stations are immediately available to community members online and via air pollution alerts issued when national standards are exceeded. Lake Macquarie residents will hopefully now have access to the same.
Eraring and Vales Point operate ambient air monitoring stations in the region, but they are not required to publish that data or provide it on request to the community. Nor are these monitors calibrated to meet state or national monitoring standards. They are not trusted by the community.
The government must actively involve community, health and local environment groups in decision-making around implementation of the new monitor. Minister Kean has already opened discussions with Lake Macquarie City Council to find an appropriate site for the monitor. However, community submissions and recommendations will be important to ensure the monitor is effective. Local independent MP for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper, said he believes the best location would be in the south-western area of the lake.
EJA recognises the hard work of many groups and individuals, and the leadership of Greg Piper, in achieving this announcement. EJA also thanks Minister Matt Kean for providing clear leadership and direction on this important matter.
Community pressure and advocacy has been key to this announcement and will need to be maintained until this promise is fully delivered on. Indeed, promises like this have previously been made and broken by NSW environment ministers.
What does this monitor mean for reducing air pollution in Lake Macquarie?
Ambient air pollution monitoring and regulation must protect people wherever they live. This is especially so for people who live closest to heavily polluting facilities such as coal-fired power stations.
To improve air quality and minimise the risk of adverse health impacts from exposure to air pollution, we must first understand what people are exposed to. This cannot be achieved if air pollution monitors are not installed in areas where people are exposed to regular and high levels of air pollution.
So monitoring is a critical first step towards reducing pollution. The second step is government action to strengthen pollution limits and enforce pollution control. Continued community organising and campaigning will be crucial in maintaining the pressure for Matt Kean and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority to deliver action on this.
We hope that other communities near coal-fired power stations will get access to permanent air pollution monitoring as well.
In May 2019 a temporary air quality monitoring system was installed in Katoomba and three smaller ‘KOALA’ (Knowing Our Ambient Local Air) air quality sensors were installed in Lithgow, near the Mt Piper coal-fired power station, for a year-long study. However, this program is not permanent. Many members of the community would like to see permanent 24/7 air monitoring in the Lithgow region once the 12-month program comes to an end in May.
An air pollution monitor for Lake Macquarie is a fantastic win for this community. But the fight isn’t over until we can all breathe clean air.