Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities

Air pollution from Australia’s ageing and increasingly unreliable coal-burning power stations is responsible for 800 premature deaths, 14,000 asthma symptoms among children and 850 cases of low birth weight in newborns each year.

Coal-fired power stations are the biggest sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in Australia – some of the pollutants most toxic to human heath.

Australia’s current air pollution standards are not strong enough to protect human health. National air pollution limits currently exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended thresholds and by international comparison, lag significantly. Much stricter standards have been adopted in most other countries, including the US, EU, and China.

Our laws fail to address problems in pollution hotspots – like the Latrobe Valley, the Hunter Valley and the NSW Central Coast – where coal mines and coal-fired power stations, often exceed the limits for air pollution.

Read our report, Toxic and Terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations is failing Australian communities, the result of exhaustive research, Freedom of Information searches, surveillance of Australia’s major power stations and advice from health experts and industry whistleblowers.

    The facts

    Coal-fired power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances and are Australia’s biggest source of fine particles (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

    These substances cause and contribute to asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, headaches and nausea in nearby communities.


    In most cases emissions limits in Australia are much more lax than those in the US, EU and China. Mercury limits for some NSW power stations are 666 times higher than the US limits.

    Pollution reduction technologies that have been available for many years and are used overseas could significantly reduce power station emissions but are not in use in Australia.

    New coal-fired power stations, even those described as ‘ultra-super critical’ or ‘HELE’ (high efficiency, low emission) only marginally reduce toxic emissions.


    Despite much evidence of failure to comply with pollution licence conditions, no power station in Victoria, NSW or Queensland has been prosecuted for any offence in the past ten years (instead they have been issued with inadequate penalty notices).

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