Just released annual air pollution data shows yet another hike in air pollution across Australia, with the coal industry the top contributor, indicating a failure of federal and state regulation which is creating a significant burden for community health and costing taxpayers an estimated $11-24.3 billion each year, according to the Clean Air Action Network, a national coalition of health and environment groups.1
The Clean Air Action Network is calling for tougher government regulation, an urgent transition from coal to renewable energy and a National Air Pollution Control Act (comment below).
New analysis of the latest annual data, and mapping of trends, shows:
- Coal mining is Australia’s second highest source of particle pollution after metal ore mining. Coal companies reported just under 400,000 tonnes of PM10 in the latest 2014-15 NPI report. This represents an 84% increase in coal mine emissions in just five years.
- Emissions of toxic pollutants from coal mines including PM10, lead, arsenic and fluoride increased by 100-200% during the last decade.
- Particle pollution (PM10) emissions from the nation’s ten most polluting mines increased by between 48% and 788% during the last five years.
- Australia’s 20 most polluting coal mines are located in the Bowen Basin and the Hunter Valley.
- Victoria’s Latrobe Valley is home to Australia’s four highest emitting coal-fired power stations. Coarse particle (PM10) emissions from electricity generation in the Valley increased by 49% during the last five years, and dangerous fine particles (PM2.5) emissions increased by 22%. Power stations are also major sources of air pollution in Gladstone, the Hunter Valley and South East Queensland.
- Newcastle’s three massive coal terminals account for 62% of the city’s PM10 emissions (295,000kg this year).
- In Gladstone, the latest report shows PM10 emissions increased by 487,000kg and PM2.5 increased by 55,820kg, largely as a result of the Curtis Island LNG plant. The city’s total particle pollution emissions increased by 17% in just one year.
- Particle pollution emissions from Mackay’s two coal terminals increased by 50% in just one year and 254% over 5 years.
- In South East Queensland, the Jeebropilly coal mine is the single greatest source of particle pollution, reporting close to 1.5 million kg of PM10.
- Brisbane’s coal export terminal (Queensland Bulk Handling) at Fisherman’s Island is the city’s third most significant source of PM10, reporting emissions of 117,000kg in 2014-15, almost trebling from 44,000kg five years ago.
- In the Namoi region, particle pollution emissions from coal mining and transportation have increased by 163% over 5 years (42% during the last 12 months).
About the NPI
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is Australia’s most comprehensive repository of information about toxic pollution. It was introduced in 1998 in response to community right-to-know campaigns.Increasingly, Australians demand to know about toxic substances entering our environments, suburbs and homes, and to know which polluters are responsible for them. Informed communities and consumers are a driving force for cleaner production.
Each year, polluters are obliged to report their emissions to air, land and water if they emit more than a specified mass of each of the NPI’s 93 toxic substances. These reports are just an estimate of point source (e.g. stack) emissions and fugitive emissions. They are not based on actual monitoring.
Polluters’ reports are then collated by the environmental protection agencies in each state and territory and published on the NPI website. Pollution reports can be downloaded by specifying one or more regions, industries, companies or substances.
Weaknesses of the NPI
- Only 93 toxic substances are reported. By comparison, the United States’ Toxics Release Inventory contains 594 chemicals.
- Several sources of pollution are not required to be reported, including coal stockpiles, coal mines owned and operated by power stations and coal trains with uncovered wagons.
- Reporting errors are not remedied and queries are not responded to.
- The NPI can only estimate pollution, it is not designed to prevent it. Australia’s air pollution laws are failing to protect the health of local communities and the environment.
For further information:
- Analysis of toxic emissions from Australian coal mines (.xlsx)
- Analysis of toxic emissions from Australian power stations (.xlsx)
- Analysis of specific air pollution ‘hot spots' (.xlsx)
- Fact sheets on the health impact of NPI substances
- Health impacts of coal (Fact Sheet)
- Sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen
- NPI in the media
- Environmental Justice Australia, ‘Clearing the Air: Why Australia Urgently Needs Effective National Air Pollution Laws”, May 2014.
- Climate and Health Alliance, ‘Coal and health in the Hunter: Lessons from one valley for the world’ (2015)
Contact Environmental Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan - 0431 150 928