Health costs of coal-burning power

In August 2020, we released new research by a team of volunteers from the Actuaries Institute of Australia, which calculates the economic cost of the health impacts of coal-burning power stations at an annual health bill of $2.4 billion.

This shocking research follows a new report from Greenpeace which shows each year toxic air pollution from coal-burning power stations causes 800 people to die prematurely, 14,500 children with asthma, and 850 babies to be born with a low birth weight.

In September, we brought together a panel of experts – Professor John Quiggin from the University of Queensland; Wendy Farmer, Voices of The Valley President; and Clare Walter from the Lung Health Research Centre – to discuss this latest research and plan how we can make sure our governments put the health of communities before the profits of big polluters.

Professor John Quiggin argued that the economics of installing pollution controls on coal-fired power stations make sense.

Wendy Farmer spoke passionately about the need for the public to understand the health impacts of coal-burning power. She recalled being in China and learning that people were taught that the thick air pollution was fog, not smog. This rang alarm bells for Wendy who was taught that the power stations in the Latrobe Valley only emitted steam. Wendy told us that it’s time to support communities like the Latrobe Valley in a just transition to clean energy and give communities, hope, jobs and a healthy future.

Clare Walter spoke to the specific health risks associated with air pollution in Australia. She noted that ambient particulate matter pollution is in the top 10 risk factors for premature death in Australia, despite a dominant narrative from regulators that air quality in Australia is good. She also noted that ambient air pollution is the only top-10 risk factor that a person has no control over – the other risk factors include things like tobacco, alcohol. Clare made it clear that this means strong government policy is needed to protect public health from air pollution exposure.

It’s time our governments put the health of the community before the profits of big polluters by:

  • Setting strong health-based national air pollution standards.
  • Expanding air quality monitoring to residential areas exposed to air pollution from coal-burning power stations to measure the health risk to communities.
  • Finalising clean air strategies with measures to reduce pollution from major sources like coal-burning power stations to as close to zero as possible.
  • Setting strong stack emission limits for coal-burning power stations in line with international standards, requiring operators to install continuous stack monitoring and best practice pollution controls that reduce toxic air pollution by more than 85 percent.

Let your state environment minister know it’s time to crack down on coal-fired pollution to protect our health.