Media release

Community coalition releases its own clean air plan after government inaction on pollution from coal-fired power stations

February 15, 2021

Communities across NSW are demanding the Berejiklian government combats toxic air pollution and protects people’s health with the release of The People’s Clean Air Action Plan. 

Tired of government inactionparticularly toxic pollution from coal-fired power stations, a coalition of community groups, environmental lawyers, health professionals and international regulatory experts came together to take the government’s task of reducing air pollution into their own hands. 

The People’s Clean Air Action Plan for NSW calls for the state government to reduce the biggest sources of air pollution by: 

  • Increasing air quality monitoring and access to information about air pollution 
  • Reducing coal-fired power station pollution with best practice control standards 
  • Reducing vehicle pollution, with a focus on vehicle pollution hotspots 
  • Phasing out wood-burning heaters 
  • Legislating health-based ambient air quality standards. 

Australia’s air pollution standards do not adequately protect health and lag significantly behind other regions, including the USA, the EU and China, where coal-fired power stations are required to install basic pollution controls that cut toxic pollutants by more than 85 percent. 

Every year, 2.1 million Australians are exposed to toxic pollution from coal-fired power stations, which causes 800 premature deaths, 15,400 asthma attacks and 850 babies to be born with low birth weight at an economic cost of $2.4 billion each year. 

In NSW, coal-fired power stations cause 477 premature deaths, 7,582 asthma attacks and 450 babies to be born with low birth weight. 

Bronya Lipski, Lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia who grew up in a coal community said: 

“The NSW government has dropped the ball on air pollution. The people of NSW were promised a clean air strategy to protect people’s health from toxic air pollution over six years ago. 

Just recently, the NSW government abandoned its plan for a standalone strategy, only for it to be reinstated in an embarrassing flip by Environment Minister Matt Kean following community anger and outrageYet we still don’t know when the strategy will be released. We simply can’t afford to wait another six years for the government to get its act together. We need it now. 

“Despite numerous pollution breaches by coal-fired power stations and multiple reports outlining the health and economic costs of toxic air pollution, coal-fired power stations like Vales Point and Liddell still receive preferential treatment from state and federal governments to pollute our air and make record profits at the expense of people’s health. 

“I grew up in the Latrobe Valley where generations of my family members worked in the Yallourn and Hazelwood power stations and where we were also exposed to the toxic pollution they pumped out.  

“My sister was often so sick she had to be on multiple courses of steroids, antibiotics and asthma medication. I was even taught how to get my sister onto a nebuliser if she had a bad asthma attack and couldn’t breathe. 

“The NSW community can’t wait any longer while the government drags their feet. Where the government has failed, the people have stepped in. It’s time the NSW government puts people before polluters and urgently adopt the recommendations in The People’s Clean Air Action Plan.” 

Dr Bob Vickers, a GP in Singleton near the Liddell power station, said: 

“I see patients presenting with serious health issues caused by air pollution from the nearby coal-fired power station, particularly kids with asthma, adults with respiratory diseases and heart disease, and pregnancy complications.”  

“I’m sick and tired of seeing patients with preventable diseases caused by toxic air pollution while the calls for governments and power companies to act are continually ignored. 

“Improving the health of people living near coal-fired power stations should be a priority. I am extremely frustrated to see how the NSW government took immediate action regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, yet continues to do nothing on the public health threat of toxic air pollution that kills almost 5,000 Australians every year. 

“Our governments could so easily reduce pollution from coal-fired power stations but instead thelet power companies make record profits while we breathe in toxic air. 

Sue Wynn, who lives in Mannering Park on NSW’s Central Coast and is the Secretary of the Mannering Park Progress, said:  

“I have lived right on the doorstep of Vales Point Power coal-fired station for 43 years. I am a non-smoker, seldom drink alcohol, take no illicit drugs, eat very healthily, am slim and extremely fit for my 68 years, regularly cycling 20 – 35 km a day or swimming among other strenuous physical activities. 

“Yet, I continue to confound my Doctors and specialists as I am suffering the chronic ailments of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder and have recently been diagnosed as being at moderate risk of a heart attack due to a 20-50% blockage of all arteries. I now take two medications and will be on these, possibly in increasing doses, for life. 

“Whilst there may be other contributing factors, I would say that the toxic gases and particulate pollution I have been exposed to the 43 years I have lived near this coal-fired power station, may have caused, or are, at the very least, exacerbating, my chronic conditions and will thus shorten my life span. 

“I plead with Environment Minister Matt Kean on behalf of all the generations to follow that you rid us of these dangerous pollutants through the Clean Air Strategy promised for over six years. It is your moral obligation and statutory duty to improve the quality of our air and environment when you can. 

“I urge you to adopt this excellent plan that would give you a road map to a cleaner brighter future for all. The hard work has been done for you, let’s just get on with it please.” 

The coalition of groups who contributed to The People’s Clean Air Action Plan are: 

Asthma AustraliaLung Foundation AustraliaDoctors for the Environment AustraliaHealthy Futures, Nature Conservation Council NSW, Communities for Clean AirFuture Sooner 

Media contact: Kate Lewis, (03) 8341 3110, [email protected]

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