Environmental Justice Australia has released a report which says that Australian coal-fired power stations produce levels of toxic air pollution that would be illegal in the US, Europe and China. The report claims that local coal-fired power stations regularly exceed even the lax limits imposed on them in Australia with few or no consequences.
The study found that ten of the largest plants in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria produce levels of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates, which exceed international standards. The report says that 900,000 people live “dangerously close” to power stations which produce pollution capable of causing increased levels of asthma, respiratory illnesses and heart disease. People living further away can also be exposed because of prevailing winds. For example, 87% of Sydney’s sulfur dioxide pollution comes from five coal-fired power stations in the Hunter.
Mercury emissions compared particularly badly. Coal-fired power is the second biggest Australian source of mercury, which accumulates in the environment, causing significant harm to people. Yet neither Queensland nor Victoria impose limits on emissions of mercury
The report also questions the reliability of emission levels claimed by the power plant operators.
For example, Eraring Power Station, which is Australia’s biggest, did not report having installed and pollution reduction equipment yet claimed to have cut its emissions of PM2.5 particulates by 60% even as its electricity generation output grew. Vales Point Power Station reported a similar big drop in particulate emissions while Mount Piper reported an amazing 90% drop between 2014 and 2015.
In Victoria, the Environment Protection Authority has been investigating Energy Australia’s Yallourn plant for “simplifying” its reports to show that it was operating within pollution limits even when it was not.