Air pollution increases 69 per cent as coal named top polluter

 

Air quality across Australia has deteriorated to alarming levels with the coal industry the nation's worst polluter, new data has shown. 

The most concerning rise in air pollution is from PM10, a coarse pollution particle about the width of a human hair. Nationally, total PM10 emissions have increased 69 per cent in one year, and 194 per cent in five years.

The figures come from the National Pollutant Inventory's 2014-15 report which collects information about toxic pollution. Non-profit legal practice Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) spent the weekend analysing the figures, which were released on Friday. 

EJA researcher Dr James Whelan said the findings raise serious questions about the future of Australia's air quality and called for tougher federal government regulation, an urgent transition from coal to renewable energy, and a National Air Pollution Control Act.

"Watching the continuing escalation of air pollution across Australia, particularly from coal mines and coal-fired power stations, is like seeing a car speed faster and faster with no police response."

Air pollution kills more than 3000 people in Australian every year, almost three times the annual road toll, and costs the nation more than $24 billion in health care costs each year.

Dr Whelan said reducing particle pollution is critical to avoiding a public health crisis in mining areas.

"Particle pollution accounts for more than 90 per cent of the total health impacts of air pollution in general."

Dr Whelan said just like smoking, there is no safe level of particle pollution. 

"Any reduction has direct health benefits including preventing premature death," he said.

While PM10 emissions from the coal industry have fallen 8 per cent in 2014-15 to just under 400,000 tonnes, they have increased 84 per cent over the past five years.

Other findings from EJA's analysis include: 

  • Coal companies reported almost 400,000 tonnes of PM10, an 84 per cent increase in the past five years
     
  • Newcastle's three coal terminals account for 62 per cent of the city's PM10 emissions (295,000 kilograms this year)
     
  • PM10 emissions from Maules Creek coal mine increased 187 per cent in 2014-15
     
  • Emissions of toxic pollutants from coal mines including PM10, lead, arsenic and fluoride increased by 100-200 per cent during the last decade
     
  • Australia's 20 most polluting coal mines are located in the Bowen Basin and the Hunter Valley
     
  • Particle pollution emissions from Mackay's two coal terminals increased by 50 per cent in just one year and 254 per cent over five years.

Reporting pollution data is mandatory, but is not audited and data is often missing, inaccurate or blatantly false, Dr Whelan said. 

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