A coalition of health, environment and community groups has made a legal complaint to the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority calling for the body to investigate alleged breaches of the law by Delta Electricity after Vales Point power station reported huge increases in dangerous particle pollution, despite producing less electricity.
Environmental Justice Australia, Nature Conservation Council NSW, Lake Macquarie & Central Coast Coal Ash Alliance, Keep Lake Macquarie Clean, Greenpeace, Australian Conservation Foundation, Doctors for the Environment, Lung Foundation Australia, and Healthy Futures allege that Delta Electricity 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 Vales Point has increased emissions of dangerous PM10 coarse particle pollution by 121 percent and PM2.5 fine particle pollution by 181 percent on the previous reporting year even though it was producing less electricity.
According to NPI data, the ageing coal-fired power station increased emissions of PM2.5 by an incredible 3000 percent since the 2012-2013 reporting period, despite only increasing electricity production by 63 percent over the same period.
Delta Electricity released a statement in response to media coverage of these increases, claiming that a number of bag filters (the pollution controls for particle pollution) were discovered to be operating ineffectively during testing in March / April for NPI reporting. The statement claims that the company also employs continuous monitoring for particle pollution but does not offer an explanation for why this did not pick up the huge increases in particle pollution or address how long the bag filters were operating ineffectively.
The EPA has confirmed to a member of the coalition that it will investigate the matter but the dates and details of what that investigation will entail have not been disclosed.
Nick Witherow, Principal Lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia said:
“Delta Electricity has sought to defend their increase in particle pollution after scrutiny from the media but their attempts to explain why they haven’t been properly controlling dangerous particle pollution defy logic. If Delta Electricity was monitoring Vales Point’s emissions of PM2.5 continuously as they claim, then we expect that the failure of the fabric filters would have been apparent before the March / April testing required for the NPI. The alternative is that Delta Electricity was aware that the fabric filters were failing before the testing was undertaken in March and April 2019 but that they failed to act.
“It appears that Delta Electricity has breached the law and its licence conditions by failing to operate and / or maintain plant and equipment at Vales Point in a proper and efficient manner, which has caused air pollution and put the community at risk. 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 Vales Point 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 or acted 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 Vales Point 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.”
Environmental Justice Australia and a different coalition of health, environment and community groups have also lodged a complaint with the Victorian EPA about increased particle emissions at Yallourn power station in the Latrobe Valley.
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 of grams per minute. Power stations are required to internally monitor their emissions to ensure they comply with their licence conditions.
A copy of the legal complaint can be found here.