Health and environment groups across Australia are calling for a National Air Pollution Prevention Act to curtail spiralling air pollution that is now responsible for more deaths than traffic accidents, with analysis of new data released this week showing a massive increase in airborne dust pollution from the nation’s coal industry.
The groups (1) are calling for an independent regulator to enforce national standards and ensure hefty penalties for polluters which breach pollution controls, as well as to ensure proper pollution monitoring and data collection.
New analysis of the latest annual National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) data (2), and mapping of trends in the preceding five years, shows big hikes in air pollution from the nation’s coal mines, coal-fired power stations and coal terminals. A Background Paper analysing the data is available. Key facts and figures are below.
Ms Nicola Rivers, Director of Advocacy and Research with Environmental Justice Australia, said, “This pollution data from the coal industry should be a wake-up call for Commonwealth and State governments which for too long have resisted calls for stricter air pollution controls.
“More Australians die from air pollution than from car crashes, but too little is being done to control major polluters such as coal mines and coal-fired power stations (3). It’s now clear that pollution from the burning and mining of coal increases cardiovascular and respiratory disease and lung cancer rates (4).
“The data highlights regional ‘hot-spots’ of high air pollution (5), where national air quality standards are regularly exceeded, but the ripple effect from coal pollution is felt across the nation, increasing costs to both our health and the economy (6).
“Coal mining is now the dominant source nationally of coarse particle pollution – called PM10 – with emissions doubling over the past five years, primarily as a result of increased production from existing mines. Many coal-fired power stations have also increased their particulate pollution.
“We know this data under-reports air pollution from the coal industry, failing to require companies report pollution stemming from coal stockpiles, coal mines owned by power stations and from uncovered coal trains.
“It’s time for reform. Australia’s lax air quality standards are regularly exceeded by big coal polluters who fail to implement best-practice pollution control measures, while regulators consistently turn a blind eye to the problem. ” Ms Rivers said.
NOTE: Relevant high-quality images, graphs available on request.
Key facts and statistics
- Coal mining is Australia’s leading source of particle pollution. Coal companies reported 435,000 tonnes of PM10 in the latest 2013-14 NPI report, 47% of the national total. This represents a doubling in PM10 emissions in just five years.
- Emissions of toxic pollutants from coal mines including PM10, lead, arsenic and fluoride increased by 100-200% during the last decade.
- Particle pollution (PM10) emissions from the nation’s ten most polluting mines increased by between 48% and 1030% during the last five years.
- Australia’s 20 most polluting coal mines are located in the Bowen Basin and the Hunter Valley.
- 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%.
- Newcastle’s three massive coal terminals are that city’s top source of PM10 and have seen a 70% increase in emissions over five years.
- Air pollution contributes to the premature death of over 3,000 Australians every year alone, with coal a major contributor (7).
- Groups include the Climate and Health Alliance, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Repower Port Augusta, Mackay Conservation Group, Surf Coast Air Action, Alliance for a Clean Environment, Oakey Coal Action Alliance, Stop Brisbane Coal Trains, Denman Aberdeen Muswellbrook Scone Healthy Environment Group, Keep Denman Coal Mine Free, Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, Lock the Gate, Queensland Conservation Council, Repower Port Augusta, Australian Coal Alliance, National Toxics Network, Environment Victoria, Environment Justice Australia, Mackay Conservation Group, Groundswell Gloucester, Voices of the Valley.
- The NPI is Australia’s most comprehensive pollution report. It lists emissions of 93 toxic substances, including fine particle pollution, mercury, arsenic and lead. The annual report is compiled from companies which estimate their pollution.
- AMA, Submission to Senate Inquiry into Health Impacts of Air Quality, April 2013, p 14.
- Climate and Health Alliance, ‘Coal and health in the Hunter: Lessons from one valley for the world’ (2015), p 15.
- Key pollution hotspots from coal: VIC – Latrobe Valley, Anglesea, NSW – Hunter Valley (NSW), Newcastle, QLD – Gladstone, Mackay, South East QLD, Central QLD, SA – Port Augusta, WA – Collie.
- A recent report 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, $65.3 million pa from fine particle pollution from coal mines and power stations in Singleton and Muswellbrook, and $13 million pa from air pollution from coal sources in Newcastle.
- Environment Justice Australia, Clearing the air: Why Australia urgently needs effective national air pollution laws, May 2014.