Media release

NSW government’s Clean Air Strategy fails to reduce pollution, after five years in the making

March 18, 2021


After five years in the making, the NSW government today released a draft Clean Air Strategy that fails to do anything to reduce pollution. 

According to lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia who analysed the document, it merely summarises what the government currently does to control pollution rather than providing a strategy to further cut pollution and protect community health.   

The draft strategy is hugely disappointing for communities suffering the health impacts of exposure to toxic air pollution, who contributed to the strategy process and have long been awaiting the outcome. 

Jocelyn McGarity, Newcastle-based lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia said: 

“NSW communities suffering health impacts from exposure to toxic air pollution have waited five years for Clean Air Strategy that, as it stands, will do little to reduce pollution. 

“Thdraft Clean Air Strategy does not contain firm commitments with measurable deadlines for delivery. It’s heavy on buzzword statements that suggest the government is “developing” or “reviewing” or will “work to” and “explore” achieving certain things. These statements lack detail, are non-committal and do not provide certainty to the community that firm actions have been created that will be carried through. 

“It is dumbfounding that the government has spent five years developing a strategy to reduce pollution and protect community health that merely maintains the status quo. 

In the five years the community has waited for this strategy, coal-fired power stations in NSW have caused approximately 2385 premature deaths, 37,910 asthma symptoms experienced by children and young adults, and 2250 babies to be born with low birth weight. 

“Children who are in care or go to school near busy roads have continued to suffer health impacts and developmental issues as a result of breathing pollution from vehicle emissions that this strategy could have fixed with better regulation. 

“The NSW government’s draft Clean Air Strategy does nothing to tackle the state’s largest source of pollution – coal-fired power stations. It could easily have mandated that power stations install basic pollution controls required in most other regions, including the United States, European Union, and China, and cut toxic pollutants by more than 85 percent. 

“The NSW government has again failed the community on clean air. Given this is a draft strategy, there is however still time to fix this mess. The NSW Environment Minister, Matt Kean, has an opportunity to make this strategy count by adopting the recommendations in the People’s Clean Air Action Plan released last month.” 

In the absence of a clean air strategy for NSW, a coalition of community groups, environmental lawyers, health professionals and international regulatory experts last month released a comprehensive plan to reduce pollution in the state. 

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. 

Dr Bob Vickers, a GP in Singelton 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 The People’s Clean Air Action 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 

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. 

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

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