Media release

Latest national air pollution data shows dangerous hikes in emissions

April 18, 2016


Just released annual air pollution data shows yet another hike in air pollution across Australia, with the coal industry the top contributor, indicating a failure of federal and state regulation which is creating a significant burden for community health and costing taxpayers an estimated $11-24.3 billion each year, according to the Clean Air Action Network, a national coalition of health and environment groups.

The Clean Air Action Network is calling for tougher government regulation, an urgent transition from coal to renewable energy and a National Air Pollution Control Act (comment below).

New analysis of the latest annual data, and mapping of trends, shows:

  • Coal mining is Australia’s second highest source of particle pollution after metal ore mining. Coal companies reported just under 400,000 tonnes of PM10 in the latest 2014-15 NPI report. This represents an 84% increase in coal mine 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 788% 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. Coarse particle (PM10) emissions from electricity generation in the Valley increased by 49% during the last five years, and dangerous fine particles (PM2.5) emissions increased by 22%. Power stations are also major sources of air pollution in Gladstone, the Hunter Valley and South East Queensland.
  • Newcastle’s three massive coal terminals account for 62% of the city’s PM10 emissions (295,000kg this year).
  • In Gladstone, the latest report shows PM10 emissions increased by 487,000kg and PM2.5 increased by 55,820kg, largely as a result of the Curtis Island LNG plant. The city’s total particle pollution emissions increased by 17% in just one year.
  • Particle pollution emissions from Mackay’s two coal terminals increased by 50% in just one year and 254% over 5 years.
  • In South East Queensland, the Jeebropilly coal mine is the single greatest source of particle pollution, reporting close to 1.5 million kg of PM10.
  • Brisbane’s coal export terminal (Queensland Bulk Handling) at Fisherman’s Island is the city’s third most significant source of PM10, reporting emissions of 117,000kg in 2014-15, almost trebling from 44,000kg five years ago.
  • In the Namoi region, particle pollution emissions from coal mining and transportation have increased by 163% over 5 years (42% during the last 12 months).

Environmental Justice Australia Researcher Dr James Whelan, who regularly analyses the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) data, says a National Air Pollution Control Act is a long overdue step towards cleaner air.

“Watching the continuing escalation of air pollution across Australia, particularly from coal mines and coal-fired power stations, is like seeing a car speed faster and faster with no police response.

“Environment Minister Greg Hunt has promised air quality will be a “signature objective” of his watch, yet he recently signed off, with most of the states, on a lousy national Clean Air Agreement which fails to meet even baseline WHO standards.

“Australia urgently needs an independent regulator to enforce national standards, impose proper penalties for companies breaching pollution controls and ensure proper pollution monitoring and data collection,” Dr Whelan said.

Dr John Van Der Kallen, from Doctors for the Environment said, “New research released this month confirms that mining and burning coal creates fine particles which have been deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation and create an increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease and lung cancer.

“Urgent reform is needed by state and federal governments to reverse this worsening trend in dangerous emissions. The world is moving away from coal towards renewable energy and a failure to follow suit will sacrifice the health of all Australians.”

Dr James Whelan continued, “Coal mining is the second highest single source of coarse particle pollution – called PM10 – with emissions increasing by 84% over the past 5 years, without effective regulation or pollution control. Emissions from many coal-fired power stations have also increased.

“While the data under-reports air pollution from the coal industry it is the best snapshot available and as it stands the findings are alarming.

“For too long regulators have been asleep at the wheel and governments cannot afford to ignore this problem, with its substantial health risks, any longer,” Dr Whelan said.


1. 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, Environmental Justice Australia, Mackay Conservation Group, Groundswell Gloucester, Voices of the Valley.

2. The NPI is Australia’s most comprehensive annual pollution report. It lists emissions of 93 toxic substances, including fine particle pollution, mercury, arsenic and lead. The NPI database  is updated on March 31 each year, using data reported by companies estimating their pollution.

3. http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/hunt/2014/sp20140307.html

4. See report from Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, Centre for Air Quality and Health Research and Evaluation, featured in ABC story ‘Any exposure of particulate matter air pollution harmful, researchers warn

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