Toxic air pollution on the rise: Our analysis of National Pollution Inventory data

The PR departments of Australia’s power stations might prefer we didn’t track their emissions of 93 toxic substances.

But we think everyone who breathes air has a right to know about – and stop – toxic contamination.

That’s why we’ve spent the last few days carefully sifting through the 2021-22 data from the National Pollution Inventory (NPI).

What we found is seriously concerning.

What is the National Pollution Inventory?

Each year, Australia’s power stations, mines and manufacturing plants are required to report on how much toxic pollution they are emitting into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that grows our food.

This data forms the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) – Australia’s annual report on toxic pollution.

What does the latest data SHOW?

Our analysis of coal-fired power stations in Victoria and NSW found that although they are producing less electricity, some of their most toxic pollution is actually getting worse.

The data shows these power stations are currently spewing out higher levels of mercury, PM2.5 and PM10 particle pollution and sulfur dioxide. Breathing in these invisible killers – or eating food contaminated with them – can lead to a lifetime of health complications.


Victoria’s three power stations – Yallourn, Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B – produced 5% less electricity than in the past, but contaminated our air with:

  • 1050kg of mercury – a heavy metal that permanently damages human brains and kidneys and is especially harmful to children. Latrobe Valley’s three power stations are the worst in Australia for mercury emissions. 
  • A 10% increase in fine particle pollution PM2.5 and 11% increase in PM10 – tiny particles that are picked up by the wind and carried long distances. When inhaled, these toxic particles go deep into people’s lungs and bloodstream.
  • Sulfur dioxide pollution from Loy Yang B was also up 22%. Inhaling sulfur dioxide is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death. It also has serious consequences for animal and plants.

New South Wales

Our analysis found that although NSW’s five coal-fired power stations are producing 7% less electricity: 

  • Mercury pollution from NSW power stations has surged by 18%. Mercury is a heavy metal that permanently damages human brains and kidneys and is especially harmful to children.

  • Fine particle pollution (PM2.5) from NSW power stations has also increased. These tiny toxic particles are picked up by the wind and carried long distances. When inhaled, they go deep into people’s lungs and bloodstream.

  • Vales Point Power Station recorded a 6% increase in nitrogen oxide pollution and has received another exemption from NSW’s EPA allowing it to continue polluting above limits in clean air laws for nitrogen oxide pollution.


Fine particle pollution (PM2.5) from coal-fired power stations are tiny particles of burnt coal which are drawn down deep into the lungs and can cause asthma, stroke and heart attacks.

Coarse particle pollution (PM10) from power stations comes from burning or grinding of coal and is also drawn into the lungs. The risks are highest for the elderly and children.


Exposure can induce headaches and anxiety. People with existing heart or lung conditions, such as asthma, are at increased risk. Repeated or prolonged exposure to moderate concentrations may cause inflammation of the respiratory tract, wheezing and lung damage.


Low levels of NOX exposure can irritate eyes, nose, throat and lungs and can lead to coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness and nausea. Exposure can also result in a build-up of fluid in the lungs for 1-2 days after exposure.

Breathing high levels of oxides of nitrogen can cause rapid burning, spasms and swelling of tissues in the throat and upper respiratory tract, reduced oxygenation of tissues, a build-up of fluid in the lungs, and even death.


The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Exposure to high levels of any types of mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing foetus. It is especially harmful to children.

Effects on brain functions may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing and memory problems.

We believe it’s not enough just to track toxic pollution – governments need to step in to actively control it.

The NPI data is another indictment against a coal-fired power industry that already stands on shaky grounds.

But it’s also a critical reminder of the very real, ongoing consequences for community health – and an unmissable call for all of us to act.

If you’re in Victoria:

Send a quick email calling on the Victorian environment minister Ingrid Stitt to take a good, hard look at the data, act now to control toxic air pollution, and include the Latrobe Valley in the Victorian clean air strategy

If you’re in NSW

We’re sending an open letter to the new NSW Labor government outlining key actions they need to urgently take to protect community health and reduce toxic air pollution.

Will you add your name?

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