Globally, the biggest hotspots for toxic air pollution are in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and New South Wales’s Lake Macquarie region- homes to power stations of Australia.
Based on the satellite data published by NASA, Greenpeace published a new report on Monday, which analyzed the worst sources of sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution worldwide. The sulfur dioxide (SO2) is an irritant gas and one of the primary pollutants that affect human health and contributes to deaths from air pollution worldwide.
Fossil fuel burning in power stations and other industrial facilities is the greatest source of SO2 in the atmosphere.
When it comes to human-caused sulfur dioxide emissions, Australia ranks 12th on a list of the top-emitting countries and is criticized in the report for air pollution standards, allowing emissions of sulfur dioxide from the power stations at higher rates compared to China and the EU.
While reviewing air pollution standards for sulfur dioxide in Australia by state and federal environment ministers, it appears 11 times higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organisation.
According to the Greenpeace report for emissions of SO2 in 2018, India, China, and Russia rank first, second and third respectively.
While ranking the worst single sources of toxic emissions, two locations in Australia appeared in the top 50, and two more in the top 100, in the report.
In Mount Isa in Queensland, a complex of mining operations with copper, lead, and zinc smelters are the biggest source of SO2 pollution in Australia. This site ranked 32nd in the report, and the analysis disclosed the production of 207 kilotonnes of sulfur dioxide emissions in 2018 itself.
The Yallourn, Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B power stations in Latrobe Valley of Victoria ranked 49th with 151 kilotonnes of emission.
The Vales Point and Eraring coal-fired power stations in the Lake Macquarie region of NSW ranked 79th and the Liddell and Bayswater power stations near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley 91st.
A population of more than 470,000 people is covered by the Victorian SO2 air pollution hotspot and more than 1.7 million people by the NSW hotspot. However, as per the Greenpeace, secondary pollution covers a far greater population.
The premature deaths of more than 100 a year in Sydney alone are thought to be caused by pollution from coal-fired power stations. However, it’s more than 4,000 nationally.
“Australian coal-burning power stations are polluting at levels that would be illegal in China and most other parts of the world,” said Jonathan Moylan, a campaigner with Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“Air pollution is the price our communities pay for the federal government’s failure to stand up to big polluters. It’s time for state environment ministers to show leadership by championing health-based sulfur and nitrogen dioxide standards, strong pollution limits for industry and speeding up the switch to clean renewable energy.”
Many health problems may arise due to sulfur dioxide, including asthma and heart and lung disease.
Ben Ewald, a doctor with Doctors for the Environment Australia, said, in Australia, some places had “a serious SO2 problem” and limits were set well above the level needed to protect human health. Even for nitrogen dioxide, another airborne pollutant, the same was the case according to him.
“These pollutants can cause childhood asthma, lung disease, cancer, birth defects and reproductive issues,” he said. “Australian governments must introduce tougher standards to protect community health.”
Across the country, Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) has been pushing for stricter air pollution standards. EJA represents the Nature Conservation Council in a legal challenge to the decision of the NSW Environmental Protection Authority on the non-varying pollution licenses of the Mount Piper, Vales Point, and Eraring power stations.
Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority has been asked by EJA to finalize a long-running review of the pollution licenses for the Latrobe power stations and to set more stringent limits.
“Although power stations obviously have [existing] limits on their licenses, those limits are so lax that power stations essentially pollute as much as they want,” said Nicola Rivers, EJA’s director of advocacy and research.
“It’s pretty extraordinary to see the Latrobe Valley in that list of highest-polluting hotspots in the world.”
According to a spokesman for the Victorian EPA, it had considered 477 submissions to its review of the Latrobe Valley’s three licenses and was drafting its assessment and amendments to the licenses.
EPA had also designed a network for air-monitoring with the Latrobe Valley community, he said, “because we value their involvement, knowledge and concerns.”
“Victoria’s air quality is considered good by world standards but scientific knowledge on the impacts of air pollution on public and environmental health is continually growing and EPA is keen for this to be reflected in industry standards and requirements,” he explained.
Under the national environment protection (ambient air quality) measure, Victoria’s EPA was also leading the national review underway for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, the spokesman said, and this would possibly lead to more strict national standards.
Till date, there have been all total 17,000 public submissions to the said review.