Coal burning prominent in six of ten most polluted postcodes in Australia

Six of Australia’s ten most polluted postcodes host coal-fired power stations or coal mines, analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) shows.

Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley in NSW, Traralgon in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, Gladstone, Stanwell and Tarong in Queensland and Collie in WA are all centres for coal burning – and are all are in the top 10 postcodes for five dangerous pollutants: coarse particles (PM10), fine particles (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

The other postcodes in the top 10 – Mount Isa in Queensland and Newman, Tom Price and Kalgoorlie in WA – host iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold mines.

“Air pollution kills around 3,000 Australians every year and worsens conditions such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases,” said Matthew Rose, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Economy & Democracy Program Manager.

“Coal-fired power continues to be a major contributor to serious health problems in Australia.

“Even though electricity generation from AGL’s Bayswater coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley dropped in the last reporting period, its mercury emissions increased by 81%, its sulphur dioxide emissions increased by 29% and its NOx emissions increased by 17%.

“This is most likely due to the facility’s ageing – and in some instances failing – infrastructure.

“The direct health impacts of air pollution are worst for children and old people – the same groups that are most affected by heatwaves, which are more frequent due to climate change.

“Australia’s air pollution standards are fragmented and in many cases weaker than the standards recommended by the World Health Organisation.

“Closing coal-fired power stations is essential to tackling climate change, but without a federal plan to manage the transition, the changes will be highly disruptive for certain communities.

“Australia needs new, nationally consistent air quality standards and a coherent national plan to manage the inevitable shift to a clean energy future.

“This is an election issue, with communities in Gladstone, the Hunter Valley and the Latrobe Valley pleading for greater certainty about their futures and all Australians wanting cleaner air and less pollution in their streets and backyards.”

ACF analysed National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) emissions data on five pollutants of concern: sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury, coarse (PM10) and fine (PM2.5) particles and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). A new webpage allows people to identify polluting facilities by postcode.

The top 10 most polluted postcodes in Australia

1. Mount Isa, Qld

Host of copper, lead, zinc and silver mines. Seventeen facilities in postcode reported pollutants of concern in the latest NPI. Mount Isa Mines, operated by Glencore, is responsible for 91% of the postcode’s emissions. Mount Isa Mines is Australia’s biggest polluter of SO2.

2. Newman, WA

Christmas Creek iron ore mine, operated Fortescue Metals Group, is the top polluting facility, responsible for about 23% of the postcode’s emissions. Fine and coarse particle pollution from the Christmas Creek mine has been steadily increasing over the last four reporting periods.

3. Muswellbrook, NSW

A hub for Hunter Valley coal mining. Known for long coal trains rumbling through the centre of town. Postcode also hosts AGL’s Bayswater coal-fired power station, which emitted 33.2 million kg of NOx, 46.2 million kg of SO2 and 108.4 kg of mercury in last reporting period.

4. Tom Price, WA

Iron ore mining centre with 16 facilities in the postcode reporting the pollutants of concern. Coarse particle pollution is the biggest problem. This can be mitigated by appropriate and progressive rehabilitation of mined land.

5. Traralgon, Vic

In Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, Traralgon is host to AGL’s Loy Yang coal-fired power station – the second biggest polluting facility in Australia for SO2 and third highest for NOx. Exposure to NOx can irritate eyes and lead to coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness and nausea. High exposure can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs, and even death.

6. Gladstone, Qld

Industrial centre on central Queensland coast. Coal-fired power station is in suburbs of town. Fine particle pollution (PM2.5), which is drawn down deep into the lungs and can cause asthma, stroke and heart attacks, has increased every year over last four reporting periods.

7. Stanwell, Qld

Stanwell power station accounts for 74% of the postcode’s emissions. A comparison with another coal-fired power station (Bayswater) shows Stanwell has a much higher NOx emission intensity for power produced (Bayswater = 2539 kg / GWh, Stanwell = 3989 kg / GWh).

8. Collie, WA

Muja Power Station is responsible for 34% of the postcode’s emissions.

9. Tarong, Qld

Tarong coal-fired power station is responsible for 80% of the postcode’s emissions.

10. Kalgoorlie, WA

Known for silver, mercury, lead and gold mines. There are 18 facilities in the postcode reporting pollutants of concern.

Header pic of Gladstone by Juanita Wilson/MAPgroup

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