Australia’s coal-fired power plants are responsible for creating some of the world’s biggest air pollution hotspots, and have helped to secure the nation 12th place on a global list of the top-emitting countries for toxic sulphur dioxide.
A new report from Greenpeace, based on NASA satellite data, tracks the world’s biggest sources of human caused sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions – one of the biggest contributors to death and disease from air pollution in the world.
The data pinpoints toxic SO2 hotspots over Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, home to the Loy Lang and Yallourn coal generators, and Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, where the Vales Point and Eraring plants are located.
And making the world’s top 100 air pollution hotspots is the NSW Hunter Valley, which is home to the Liddell and Bayswater power stations.
Greenpeace notes that the Victorian SO2 hotspot affects more than 470,000 people, while the NSW hotspot covers an area of more than 1.7 million people, although the impacts from secondary pollution would likely reach a far greater population.
And it notes that Australia’s ageing coal clunkers are licensed to emit up to eight times more sulphur dioxide than old power stations in China, thanks to the complete absence of state or federal limits on power station emissions of SO2 in any Australian jurisdiction.
“Unchecked air pollution causes over 4000 premature deaths in Australia each year, which is far more than the national road toll.”
The Greenpeace report comes as Australia’s National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM) are being reviewed for the first time since 1998, with state and federal environment ministers set to vote on new standards in December.
How strict these new standards might be remains to be seen, but if they are anything like the federal government’s “safeguard mechanism” – meant to limit the carbon emissions of big industry – we shouldn’t get our hopes up.
“Air pollution is the price our communities pay for the federal government’s failure to stand up to big polluters,” Moylan added.
“It’s time for state environment ministers to show leadership by championing health-based sulphur and nitrogen dioxide standards, strong pollution limits for industry and speeding up the switch to clean renewable energy”