Power station emissions hit the stratosphere despite government assurances on pollution controls

Pollutants: Liddell power station with Bayswater power station cooling towers in the background. National Pollutant Inventory data shows big increases in some pollutants from the stations.
Pollutants: Liddell power station with Bayswater power station cooling towers in the background. National Pollutant Inventory data shows big increases in some pollutants from the stations.

DANGEROUS fine particle emissions from Bayswater power station jumped by 69 per cent in 2017, according to new national data showing the Hunter’s biggest air polluters are releasing more toxic emissions than ever before.

The Bayswater figure was dwarfed by a 179 per cent jump in PM2.5 fine particle emissions from Vales Point power station, only a year after an extraordinary fine particle decrease at the Lake Macquarie power station prompted questions to the Environment Protection Authority about the veracity of industry-reported pollutant figures.

The region’s 10 most polluting coal mines released 61 million kilograms of coarse particle PM10 emissions in 2017, representing a 2 per cent increase on the previous year despite NSW Government assurances that emission-reduction measures are working.

Environmental Justice Australia researcher Dr James Whelan said an analysis of National Pollutant Inventory data released last week by the Federal Government showed coal mines and power stations had not moved to control and reduce air pollution, despite pollution-reduction technologies being available and obligatory in many other countries.

The NPI data showed Bayswater released 294,000kg of fine particle PM2.5 emissions in 2017, while PM2.5 emissions in nearby Muswellbrook have exceeded the national standard each year since 2012.

Bayswater reported a 23 per cent reduction in nitrous oxide emissions, while nearby Liddell power station reported a 9 per cent increase in sulfur dioxide emissions. Both emissions can cause serious health impacts and are a particular risk for people with respiratory and heart conditions.  

This year’s inventory confirms the urgent need for stronger national air pollution laws and a strong national environmental protection authority to control toxic air pollution.

Environmental Justice Australia spokesperson Dr James Whelan

“Coal mines and power stations have maintained high levels of toxic pollution. This year’s inventory confirms the urgent need for stronger national air pollution laws and a strong national environmental protection authority to control toxic air pollution,” said Dr Whelan.

The data raised more questions about the industry-reported, un-audited figures, but it remained Australia’s most comprehensive source of air pollution data, Dr Whelan said.

It showed Bayswater emitted 73.5kg of mercury in 2017 while Eraring, Australia’s biggest power station, emitted just 1.3kg of mercury.

Newcastle GP and public health academic Dr Ben Ewald said the new data provided even more evidence of the need to replace old coal-fired power stations with renewable energy.  

“Every time an old coal-fired power stations closes to be replaced by renewable energy, there’s an immediate health benefit to communities within 100 kilometres of the facility,” Dr Ewald said.

Proximity to power stations has been shown to affect birth weight and contribute to premature birth. The health impact of the Hunter’s power stations has been estimated at $600m per annum.

Every time an old coal-fired power stations closes to be replaced by renewable energy, there’s an immediate health benefit to communities within 100 kilometres of the facility.

Dr Ben Ewald

Dr Ewald repeated calls for the state to expand the Load-Based Licensing scheme and impose much higher fees for toxic air pollution. Health experts have recommended that fees should be increased by a factor of 50.

The data showed the Hunter’s 10 most polluting coal mines are Hunter Valley Operations, Mount Arthur, Mount Thorley Warkworth, Ravensworth, Bengalla, Bulga, Liddell, Wambo, Mount Owen and the Glendell & Ravensworth East mine.

Mount Owen reported the biggest increase in coarse particle PM10 emissions, up 17 per cent to 3.3 million kilograms.

Damning: Bulga resident John Krey with Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine in the background. New pollution figures show pollution control measures aren't working, he said.

Damning: Bulga resident John Krey with Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine in the background. New pollution figures show pollution control measures aren't working, he said.

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association president and community representative on the Upper Hunter Air Monitoring Network Advisory Committee, John Krey, said the Environment Protection Authority’s Dust Stop program was created to control particle pollution from the mines.

“By any objective measure the program is failing and must be replaced with a much stronger compliance approach by the state’s environmental watchdog.”

The federal data showed coarse particle pollution from Newcastle’s three coal terminals had doubled in the past decade and accounted for nearly 200,000 kilograms of pollution in 2017.

The terminals accounted for 50 per cent of the city’s total emissions.

The EPA said it conducted a detailed review of coal fired power stations’ reporting of air emissions in NSW after Environmental Justice Australia raised concerns in 2017.

“The review involved examining air emissions, compliance with regulatory requirements and emission estimation and reporting under the NPI,” the EPA said.

“The EPA’s review found extensive compliance with licenced emission limits and found no evidence of deliberate misreporting of emission data.”

A spokesperson for AGL confirmed the data was correct but said “care should be taken in interpreting it because the NPI process requires us to calculate emissions based on a sample ‘stack test’ at a particular point in time”.

“The stack test results can vary substantially from year to year because of a number of factors including generation needs, which are driven by market demand for electricity. When we measure continuous monitoring from year to year, it illustrates a more consistent pattern,” the spokesperson said.

“Bayswater and Liddell power stations operate in compliance with environmental laws and licence conditions.”