Coal fired power stations are producing less power but remain one of the biggest sources of toxic air pollution in Australia, according to analysis of new data from the national inventory of toxic pollution.
Each year more than 4000 big polluters like power stations, mines and manufacturing plants are required to provide information about their emissions of 93 toxic substances for the National Pollution Inventory (NPI).
Analysis of the 2021-22 financial year data by Environmental Justice Australia has revealed that energy generation from coal power stations dropped 7% in NSW and 5% in Victoria; however, some of the most toxic pollution to human health from coal power stations has been allowed to increase through lax pollution limits and EPA approved exemptions.
Alinta’s Loy Yang B in Victoria is the worst power station nationally for mercury emissions, spewing out 427kg of mercury pollution, an increase of 6% on the previous year. Sulfur dioxide pollution from Loy Yang B was also up 22%, and with the EPA increasing its limit last year, there is concern this is likely to keep increasing.
Mount Piper Power Station near Lithgow in NSW recorded a 32% decrease in power generation but a shocking increase in pollution: a 147% increase in PM2.5 fine particle pollution, a 78% increase in PM10 particle pollution, and a 59% increase in mercury pollution.
Environmental Justice Australia Senior Campaigner, Joy Toose said:
“Australians want to breathe clean air. While renewables are surging ahead, coal is giving us more pollution for less electricity.
Coal-burning power stations are among the biggest polluters in Australia, causing serious health impacts in the community, including increasing rates of asthma in children, contributing to low birth weight in newborns and the development of serious heart and lung conditions.
The technology to reduce this pollution exists and is used widely around the world, but shockingly, coal-fired power stations in Australia continue to operate without best-practice controls, exposing millions of Australians to unnecessary levels of toxic air pollution.
Victoria’s EPA chose not to set proper pollutions limits or require pollution controls for coal fired power stations, so now we’re seeing big spikes in fine particle pollution and mercury. The EPA is not doing its job so companies think they can get away with it.
We know there is no safe level of air pollution and while coal-fired power stations continue to operate, the NSW and Victorian EPAs have a responsibility to protect the health of our community.”
Voices of the Valley spokesperson Wendy Farmer said:
“Communities living near coal-fired power stations, like those of us in the Latrobe Valley, are exposed to some of the worst air pollution in the state. The latest reporting shows that mercury and fine particle pollution from power stations has only increased.
Our community has powered Victoria for decades and shoulders a huge health burden from breathing toxic air as a result, but we’ve been shut out of the government’s clean air plan.
If the government’s clean air plan is truly for all Victorians, the Latrobe Valley should be included, alongside the priority areas identified in Melbourne’s West.”
Lake Macquarie GP Kathleen Wild said:
“We know that coal fired power stations are a major contributor to the air pollution that causes a significant health burden to the people of NSW, including 603 early deaths a year.
While many are aware of how air pollution contributes to lung problems like asthma and emphysema, there is increasing evidence that it also contributes to your risk of heart disease, dementia, low baby birth weight, and several other diseases.
This is why there are there are limits on nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide chemicals that pollute the air from coal power stations, and it is a health concern to the Lake Macquarie and Central Coast communities that exemptions have been granted to Vales Point Power Station to exceed limits on air pollution.”
Australia’s pollution hotspots from EJA’s analysis of this year’s NPI data
- AGL’s three power stations (Loy Yang A, Bayswater and Liddell) increased their combined emissions of mercury by 29%, PM2.5 by 21% and PM10 by 14%. This is on top of AGL’s increases last year of 31%, 76% and 31% respectively.
- This is the first full year of data we’ve seen since the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced new licence conditions for Victoria’s three coal-fired power stations, including adding limits on mercury and fine particle (PM2.5) pollution for the first time.
- These results show the inadequacy of these pollution limits set by Victoria’s EPA in March 2021.
- Mercury emissions increased by 12% on the previous year with the three power stations emitting 1050 kg of mercury in one year.
- Victoria’s three power stations emit almost five times more mercury than the five power stations in NSW (216kg).
- Despite a drop of 8% in electricity generation, AGL’s Loy Yang increased its mercury emissions by 31%, PM2.5 by 38% and PM 10 by 17%.
- Victoria has seen a 10% total increase in PM2.5 fine particle pollution, emitting 3.5 times more PM2.5 than in NSW. Victoria’s PM10 fine particle pollution was up 11%, more than 3.7 times the level in NSW.
- Total mercury pollution from NSW power stations increased 18% along with a 7% total increase in PM2.5.
- Nitrogen oxide pollution rate from NSW power stations was 2.23kg per MW, more than double the 1.3kg per MW recorded in Victoria.
- Vales Point Power Station recorded a 6% increase in nitrogen oxide pollution and has since received another exemption from NSW’s EPA allowing it to continue polluting above limits in NSW clean air laws for nitrogen oxide pollution.
- Liddell Power Station has kept pumping out pollution in the lead up to its closure this month, recording a 170% increase in mercury pollution.
- Tarong Power Station is Australia’s worst of more than 2000 reporting facilities for fine particle pollution (PM2.5).
- Stanwell, Tarong, Gladstone and Callide power stations are among the worst 10 nitrogen oxide polluters in the country, from more than 2000 reporting facilities.
- Of the 1499 facilities reporting mercury pollution, Millmerran Power ranks as the 8th worst polluter, with 284kg of mercury pollution reported. Callide, Stanwell, Gladstone and Tarong aren’t far behind, with all of them ranking among the worst 20 mercury polluters.
- Stanwell, Millmerran and Tarong power stations are among the worst 10 sulfur dioxide polluters in the country, from more than 2000 reporting facilities.
Download our spreadsheet (Excel) to read our full analysis.
Visit our website to understand the health impacts from different pollutants.
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