A coalition of health, environment and community groups has made a legal complaint to the Victorian Environment Protection Authority calling for the body to investigate alleged breaches of the law by EnergyAustralia after Yallourn power station reported huge increases in dangerous particle pollution, despite producing less electricity.
Environmental Justice Australia, Doctors for the Environment, Lung Foundation Australia, Voices of the Valley, Environment Victoria, Healthy Futures, Australian Conservation Foundation and Friends of the Earth allege that EnergyAustralia has breached the law and its licence conditions and say they should held accountable.
The legal complaint refers to recently released data from the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) that shows Yallourn increased emissions of dangerous PM10 coarse particle pollution by 45 percent and PM2.5 fine particle pollution by 82 percent on the previous reporting year even though it had one of its generating units offline for maintenance during that time.
The complaint also raises concerns about the power station’s electrostatic dust precipitator (EDP), and whether or not the steep rise of particulate emissions is linked to a failure of the EDP – the subject of an existing legal dispute and growing concerns from the surrounding community who have reported coal residues covering their houses.
Nick Witherow, Principal Lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia said:
“The Environment Protection Act 1970 and the State Environment Protection Policy (Air Quality Management) requires EnergyAustralia to continually improve Yallourn’s environmental management practices, environmental performance and apply best practice to the management of Yallourn’s emissions. Yet Yallourn is producing more pollution to generate less electricity and putting surrounding communities at risk with increasing levels of particle pollution.
“If Yallourn’s electrostatic dust precipitator is failing, EnergyAustralia should be required to replace it with bag filters – best practice pollution controls legally mandated in most other countries that can capture up to 99 percent of fine particle pollution.
“It’s clear that Yallourn is going backwards in its environmental management and performance and that EnergyAustralia is not implementing best practice management of Yallourn’s emissions as required by the Environment Protection Act. The EPA must investigate and hold them accountable.
“We are aware that the EPA does not usually refer to the National Pollutant Inventory data in relation to a polluter’s compliance with their licence and the Environment Protection Act. However, the steep and unexplained rise in overall particulate emissions Yallourn reported to the NPI warrants investigation. It also raises questions about the current means of reporting used to measure compliance where a power station is left to self-report any exceedances of stack emissions at any given time, especially if it has not picked up on such enormous increases in toxic pollution.”
Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM and member of Doctors for the Environment said:
“In the middle of a global pandemic that targets the respiratory system, it is troubling to learn that coal-fired power stations like Yallourn could be emitting increased levels of dangerous particle pollution. We know that exposure to PM2.5 pollution increases the risk serious respiratory illnesses like asthma and lung cancer in addition to lung and heart disease, stroke, low birth weight of babies, and type 2 diabetes.
“People who live near coal-fired power stations are already suffering an unacceptable health burden and international studies which suggest air pollution is a contributor to COVID-19 deaths could mean these local communities are now also more susceptible to an increased risk of mortality from Coronavirus. Governments must be vigilant about cutting toxic air pollution from the country’s biggest sources to improve the health of these communities and ensure they are more resilient to health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Wendy Farmer, President of Voices of the Valley and Latrobe Valley resident said
“A number of people in the Latrobe Valley community have commented that some mornings their houses, cars, garden and outdoor areas have been covered in a layer of coal residue – this has been getting worse in the last few years. There is clearly something wrong with the pollution controls at Yallourn and yet the EPA is not doing enough to protect our health.
“Our community in the Latrobe Valley is proud to supply electricity to Victoria but not at the cost of the health of our families. People in the Valley have higher rates of health issues already and are now more susceptible to COVID-19. We want to know what’s stopping the Andrews Government from making coal-fired power stations install basic pollution controls to protect our health.”
A recent Harvard study found regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from COIVD-19 than people who live in less polluted areas.
Another recent study has found that long-term exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide also causes an increase in the mortality risk from COVID-19.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is self-reported by industry and not audited, but it is Australia’s most comprehensive source of air pollution data. The Federal Government publishes the NPI annually from information supplied by various industries, compiled by the states and territories.
NPI estimates are a calculation of the total amount of annual pollution in kilograms, while licence limits are expressed concentrations (eg. the amount of PM2.5 coming out the stacks at any time must not exceed 50mg/m3). Currently power stations are required to measure stack emissions in 30-minute intervals and self-report any breaches of the limits.
A copy of the legal complaint can be found here.