The air pollution from coal fired power stations is damaging health, and the pollution license system is doing nothing to improve air quality over time. Recent reports of faults in the monitoring and reporting of air pollution emissions shows that the license system needs an overhaul if health is to be improved.
Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter has had fine particle pollution above the national standard of
8 μg/m3 ever since records have been kept, and the pollution license system for the town’s two coal fired power stations, Liddell and Bayswater, that set levels of allowable pollution back in the 1980s gives no incentive for improvement over time. Fine particles cause heart and lung disease.
Muswellbrook also has a problem with sulphur dioxide, a powerful respiratory irritant that triggers asthma in susceptible people. While levels are within the Australian standard, that level was set 20 years ago and is out of line with current medical evidence that now supports a much stricter standard.
“Comparing the air quality in Muswellbrook with the current World Health Organisation standard shows that there have been 22 exceedances already this year” said spokesperson Dr Ben Ewald. “By contrast, there has not been a single exceedance at Rozelle in Sydney’s inner west.”
Other towns with power stations such as Lake Macquarie, Lithgow and many others around Australia do not have publicly run air quality monitors so their exposure is unknown.
At a recent community meeting in Muswellbrook a representative of AGL, that owns the power stations, explained that if the stack emissions of SO2 were noted to increase they add low sulphur coal to the fuel mix to bring it back to the usual level. The power stations could be run so as to produce the same electricity with reduced pollution but there is no requirement or incentive to do so.
NSW has a sophisticated system of pollution license fees that could create financial incentives for cleaner production, but the current fee level of 1/30th of a cent per KWh* does nothing to clean up pollution levels. The load based license fee system was reviewed last year, but the NSW government has so far made no response.
The people of Muswellbrook could be justifiably angry about poor air quality year after year, when the technology to reduce power station pollution is well known but the power companies run the stations to maximise profits and the regulator sits on their hands.
Doctors for the Environment Australia calls for the pollution license fee to be increased to match the cost of health damage caused by air pollution. This would provide financial incentives for cleaner production, and reduce the health burden for exposed communities.
*a KWh sells to customers in NSW for 20 to 30 cents.
Dr Ben Ewald 0422 378 042