Inquiry Into Clean Air: How Polluted is Our Air?

This week in committee hearings for the inquiry into clean air, Abigail highlighted just how dirty power stations are making our air. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Maybe a question for you, Mr Moylan. You mentioned about how far some of the pollutants travel. Can you explain that to the Committee?

Mr MOYLAN (NSW Clean Air Campaigner, Healthy Futures): Yes. The CSIRO have been tracking power station pollution for decades, even using flight trackers and so on. There was one study that followed particulate matter 1 [PM1] pollution all the way from Port Augusta Power Station to Chinchilla in Queensland. The study led from the University of Exeter found interstate health impacts in Victoria and Queensland from the power stations in New South Wales. It is a very large area affected. I guess I would add that the existing monitoring already does also show breaches of World Health Organization guidelines. In many senses, the health evidence is disturbing, but it is not surprising. In terms of the way that air commonly travels, obviously, the closer you are to a power station, the higher the risk is. The risk is certainly highest in places like Muswellbrook and Singleton and also on the Central Coast, adjacent to power stations. But under certain atmospheric conditions, when you have particularly the nitrogen and sulphur dioxide travelling off the coast of Sydney, it reacts under unfavourable atmospheric conditions, can rush up the Parramatta and Georges river and get trapped under inversion conditions in the Sydney Basin, where there are already exceedances of ozone and particle pollution. A portion of that would be coming from precursor power station pollution.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Mr Moylan, we know that there are dangerous toxins being released from these power stations, there is dangerous pollutants. We know that they travel a long way. But, without adequate air pollution monitoring, it is not possible for individuals to know if they are being exposed at a particular time. Would you say that is right?

Mr MOYLAN: More monitoring would absolutely help. It is possible to do health outcome studies simply with dispersion modelling from power stations. But I think the big concern about monitoring is that people do not know what the quality of the air they are breathing in is in their local area. I think the critical thing is that, given the existing monitors are already showing breaches of the WHO guidelines, really, where there are available abatements, which are in widespread use in China, in the EU, the US, Japan, all over the world, bringing down those levels of air pollution, using abatement technology, would produce significant health benefits.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: If I can ask you, Mr Campbell. Given the known risk to people's health from the air pollution coming out of the coal-fired power stations in your area, do you ever get any guidance from the health department or from anybody in relation to how individuals might reduce their risk of exposure?

Mr CAMPBELL: No. As I say, in 2017 I was involved with the Environmental Justice Australia campaign, Toxic and Terminal. I set up a meeting with the area health director of the Central Coast. James Whelan and I attended that meeting. We did not invite the Environment Protection Authority [EPA], but they were there when we turned up. I had a feeling that the area director general could have been more outgoing with his answers. I had a feeling that the Environmental Protection being in attendance was not particularly welcome. The thing is I asked a simple question at the end of it. It was not a very good meeting, I must say. Not a lot of information came forward. But I did ask "Does this area, Central Coast, monitor admissions, either into the emergency department or in the hospital generally, at both Gosford and Wyong hospitals? Do they measure the periods of time of the year, such as temperature inversion in the wintertime, when upper respiratory tract infection [URTI] are presented? These figures should be available. Are they ever correlated so that they could be matched with such as the National Pollutant Inventory [NPI] figures that the power stations put out for those periods of time?"

They could be matched so you would have a dataset for the hospital systems for each season of the year and then say it matches sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide emissions and have those put to public, because the public are still in the dark about all this, Ms Boyd. This is an ongoing problem. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: What I am trying to understand here is that we have evidence from Mr Moylan, that we are looking at health costs of $2.4 billion—per year, I assume. I will come back to you as to what that figure exactly was. We have very little information for the community. We have very little that they can do to protect themselves from those health costs. Would you agree, then, that we have no other option but to require the power stations themselves to curb these emissions to reduce that health cost? I will go to you first, Mr Moylan.

Mr MOYLAN: Yes. That $2.4 billion figure came from Dr Richard Broome's figure. I understand it to be an annual figure. It would be a question to put to him, I would say. Certainly, as I mentioned in the introductory comments, there are multiple different ways. It can be done through a regulatory or a prescriptive approach or through the fee-based scheme that exists. But, either way, absolutely, with the compelling health evidence that we have, that pollution needs to be abated. From a health point of view, we are concerned about the outcome, which is clean air and healthier lungs. The way that that outcome is achieved is, obviously, your responsibility. We would commend any and every effort to tackle air pollution from power stations.


The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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