Media release

Coal-fired power stations’ health problems exposed in new report

August 15, 2017

A major new report shows Australia’s power stations are allowed to emit far more pollution than those in the US and Europe, operators are failing to adopt available pollution reduction technologies and one even admitted to falsifying pollution reports.

Nearly 900,000 Australians in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria live dangerously close to coal-fired power stations that cause asthma and respiratory illnesses and increase the likelihood of stroke and heart attack, the report by Environmental Justice Australia has found.

And those 900,000 living in close proximity to the power stations are not the only ones affected – emissions from the five NSW power stations account for 87% of Sydney’s sulfur dioxide pollution.

Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities is the result of exhaustive research, Freedom of Information searches, surveillance of Australia’s major power stations and advice from health experts and industry whistleblowers. The report finds:

  • Coal-fired power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances and are Australia’s biggest source of fine particles (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
  • These substances cause and contribute to asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, headaches and nausea in nearby communities.
  • In most cases emissions limits in Australia are much more lax than those in the US, EU and China.
  • Mercury limits for some NSW power stations are 666 times higher than the US limits.
  • Pollution reduction technologies that have been available for many years and are used overseas could significantly reduce power station emissions but are not in use in Australia.
  • New coal-fired power stations, even those described as ‘ultra-super critical’ or ‘HELE’ (high efficiency, low emission) only marginally reduce toxic emissions
  • A representative of Yallourn power station admitted that at times of excessive pollution it ‘simplified’ its reporting by stating it was emitting at levels that correspond with its licence.
  • Despite much evidence of failure to comply with pollution licence conditions, no power station in Victoria, NSW or Queensland has been prosecuted for any offence in the past ten years (instead they have been issued with inadequate penalty notices).

“Fine particle pollution exposure is responsible for 1,590 premature deaths each year in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth,” said EJA lawyer and co-author Nicola Rivers.

“People who live within 50 kilometres of coal-fired power stations are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than people who live further away.

“And air pollution travels, so 87% of the sulfur dioxide pollution recorded in Sydney can be traced to have come from power stations in the Hunter Valley, more than 100 kilometres away.

“Power station pollution is believed to cause 130 premature deaths a year in Sydney.

“Australia’s air pollution laws are weak, outdated, poorly monitored and inadequately enforced.”

The report recommends the Federal Government to commission an independent study into the health impacts of Australia’s coal-fired power stations, and calls on state governments to require all power stations to urgently reduce their toxic pollution in line with international best practice.

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