Coal-fired power stations remain major source of toxic fine particle pollution

Environmental Justice Australia has analysed data from the annual National Pollution Inventory finding that electricity generation remains Australia’s single greatest source of toxic PM2.5, accounting for 8.3 million kilograms of fine particle pollution.

Power stations are also responsible for 49% (360 million kilograms) of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions and 54% (480 million kilograms) of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions.

“Coal mines and power stations have maintained high levels of toxic pollution,” said Environmental Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan, who spent the Easter weekend studying the NPI data.

“These toxic industries have not moved to control and reduce air pollution, despite relevant technologies being readily available – in fact, obligatory – in many other countries.

“This year’s NPI confirms the urgent need for stronger national air pollution laws and a strong national Environmental Protection Authority to control toxic air pollution.”

EJA’s analysis of this year’s NPI data has revealed:

  • AGL’s Bayswater power station in the Hunter Valley reported emitting 294,000kg of PM5 – a 69% increase on the previous year. Annual PM2.5 concentrations in nearby Muswellbrook have exceeded the national standard every year since 2012.

  • Fine particle emissions from Tarong power station, Queensland’s most polluting coal-fired power station, increased 16% during the last year, up 71% in the last five years.

  • Emissions of mercury and compounds from the Latrobe Valley’s power stations increased by 37% to more than 2000kg in just one year, with Loy Yang B mercury emissions up 116% and Yallourn up 53%. The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Exposure to high levels can permanently damage the brain, kidneys and developing foetus.

  • Victoria’s Yallourn power station appears to be inaccurately reporting its toxic emissions. In the last two NPI reports, the operators of Yallourn have reported fine particle (PM5) emissions more than 50% lower than any year in the preceding decade.

“If Eraring, Australia’s largest coal-fired power station, can limit its mercury emissions to just 1.3kg a year, why does the Victorian EPA allow Loy Yang B to double its mercury emissions to 831kg?” Dr Whelan said.

“Yallourn’s claim that fine particle emissions have dropped by 50% is not credible, as the power station has not installed any new equipment to control pollution, despite such equipment being readily available,” Dr Whelan said.

The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is self-reported by industry and not audited, but it is Australia’s most comprehensive source of air pollution data. The Federal Government publishes the NPI annually from information supplied by various industries, compiled by the states and territories.

In the last four years, seven large coal-fired power stations in Australia have been retired.

The retirement of these power stations has reduced toxic fine particle pollution by 966,000kg, SO2 emissions by 87 million kg and oxides of nitrogen by 31 million kilograms each year.

“Every time one of these old coal-fired power stations closes to be replaced by renewable energy, there’s an immediate health benefit to communities within 100 kilometres of the facility,” said Newcastle GP and public health academic Dr Ben Ewald.

Information about pollution emissions of individual sites is available here.

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