Analysis of the latest figures from the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI), and new mapping of trends in the preceding five years of NPI data, shows: a massive increase in particle pollution (PM10) from the nation’s coal mines, coal fired power-stations and coal terminals.
- Coal is the dominant source of PM10 emissions nationally. During the last five years, coarse particle pollution (PM10) from coal mines has increased by 107%, primarily as a result of increased production from existing mines.
- Many coal fired power stations have increased their particle pollution. In Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, for example, dangerous fine particle (PM2.5) emissions from the four major power stations increased by 940,000 kg over five years – a 27% increase.
The health and economic costs of coal-related air pollution are high
- Particle pollution from coal has been found to increase cardiovascular and respiratory disease, lung cancer and premature death. Particulates can trigger heart attacks and strokes, and particulate matter is deemed ‘carcinogenic’ by the World Health Organisation.
- The Climate and Health Alliance estimates the health costs from coal projects in the Hunter Valley in NSW alone to include: $600M pa from pollution from the five Hunter coal fired power stations, $65.3M pa from fine particle pollution from coal mines and power stations in Singleton and Muswellbrook, and $13M pa from air pollution from coal sources in Newcastle.
Pollution from coal mines
- Coal mines are Australia’s leading source of PM10, accounting for almost half (47%) the nation’s total emissions. Over the last decade, emissions of lead and compounds increased by 195%, arsenic and compounds by 158%, fluoride by 108% and mercury and compounds by 117%.
- Fourteen of the country’s twenty most polluting coal mines are in Central Queensland. The remaining six are in the Hunter Valley.
Pollution from coal-fired power stations
- Coal-fired power stations and the massive coal export stockpiles in Mackay, Brisbane and Newcastle are also major sources of toxic emissions, including particle pollution. Nationally, the health costs attributable to coal-fired power stations are estimated to reach $2.6 billion per annum.
- Many of the country’s worst polluting power stations have reported massively increased emissions.
- Victoria’s Latrobe Valley is home to Australia’s four highest emitting coal-fired power stations. PM10 emissions from electricity generation increased in the Valley by 28% during the last five years and PM2.5 (dangerous fine particle) emissions increased by 27%.
Pollution from coal terminals
- Coal dust (PM10) emissions from coal loading and export facilities have increased significantly in suburban Brisbane, Newcastle and Mackay.
- Queensland Bulk Handling which loads coal for export at the mouth of the Brisbane River reported a 221% increase in PM10 emissions over the last five years.
- Newcastle’s three massive coal terminals are that city’s top source of PM10 and emissions increased by 70% in five years.
- PM10 emissions from loading coal at Mackay’s two export terminals have increased by 136% over five years.
About the NPI
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is Australia’s most comprehensive repository of information about toxic pollution. It was introduced in the late 1990s in response to community right-to-know campaigns. Increasingly, Australians demand to know about toxic substances entering our environments, suburbs and homes, and the polluters responsible for them. Informed communities and consumers have been shown to be a driving force for cleaner production.
Polluters are obliged to report their emissions to air, land and water if they emit more than a limit set of each of the NPI’s 93 toxic substances. These reports are an estimate of point source (e.g. stack) emissions and fugitive emissions, they are not compiled from actual monitoring.
Polluters’ reports are collated by the environmental protection agencies in each state and territory and published on the NPI website. Pollution reports can be downloaded by specifying one or more regions, industries, companies or substances.
Weaknesses of the NPI
- Only 93 toxic substances are reported. By comparison, the United States’ Toxics Release Inventory contains 594 chemicals.
- Several sources of pollution are not required to be reported, including coal stockpiles, coal mines owned and operated by power stations and coal trains with uncovered wagons.
- The NPI is severely under-resourced. In most jurisdictions, there is just one person working on the program, and reporting errors and queries are not addressed.
- The NPI can only estimate pollution, it is not designed to prevent it. Australia’s air pollution laws are failing to protect the health of local communities and the environment.
For further information:
Fact sheets on the health impact of NPI substances
Environmental Justice Australia, Clearing the Air: Why Australia Urgently Needs Effective National Air Pollution Laws, May 2014
Climate and Health Alliance, Coal and Health in the Hunter: Lessons from One Valley for the World (2015)