Study: NSW Coal Power To Kill Thousands

NSW Coal Power Kills

A new report claims air pollution created by coal-fired power stations in New South Wales causes hundreds of premature deaths in the state every year.

An independent study of the health impacts of this “silent killer” was carried out by epidemiologist and researcher Dr Benjamin Ewald, and is said to be the first of its type in Australia.

Dr. Ewald’s analysis found that in addition to 279 deaths in the state every year from coal power related air pollution, 233 babies are born with a low birth weight and 369 people develop Type 2 diabetes.

The form of pollution that has the strongest effect on health is fine particles (PM 2.5). These particles are around thirty times smaller than the width of a human hair; small enough to enter the bloodstream via the lungs and then going on to inflame organs.

In Sydney alone, coal power has been blamed for 153 premature deaths, 147 instances of underweight babies and 199 people with new onset diabetes annually.

Coal Power And Diabetes – Huh?

We’ve mentioned the reported link between coal power and diabetes before. Previous research has estimated fine particulate pollution was responsible for 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016. While coal power isn’t the only source of fine particulates, it’s a major contributor.

The Future NSW Coal Power Death Toll Could Be Thousands

If air pollution from coal power isn’t addressed, Dr. Ewald says thousands more New South Wales residents will die prematurely in the years ahead.

“It’s shocking to think that based on the current operating life of the five power stations, the air pollution they produce will kill 3,429 more people.”

The report, titled “The health burden of fine particle pollution from electricity generation in NSW” was commissioned by Environmental Justice Australia and can be viewed here (PDF).

Environmental Justice Australia is using the study to draw attention to fact that something can be done; aside from shuttering these stations and switching to renewables + storage.

“The companies that own these power stations have the technology to reduce toxic pollutants from coal-fired power stations by up to 98% – they just don’t bother to install it and the government doesn’t make them,” it says.

It’s not just fine particulate matter that is of concern – compounds including sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), plus mercury also have health impacts

EJA has previously called out the NSW and other state governments for lax coal power pollution regulations. The organisation is encouraging New South Wales residents to express their support for best practice pollution controls to the NSW Environment Protection Agency.

Coal power wreaks a heavy toll around the world – premature deaths attributed to coal-related air pollution alone have been previously estimated at 800,000 – annually.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Geoff Miell says

    ANU Professor Will Steffen produced an Expert Report at the request of EDO NSW acting on behalf of Bylong Valley Protection Alliance (BVPA), to provide it to the Independent Planning Commission NSW (IPCN) concerning the Bylong Coal Project Determination. The IPCN published this report on the webpage earlier this week.
    See: https://live.ipcn.nsw.gov.au/resources/pac/media/files/pac/projects/2018/10/bylong-coal-project/presentations-and-comments/william-steffen.pdf

    The Executive Summary includes:

    “1. Anthropogenic climate change is real and poses serious risks for the wellbeing of humans and our societies. These risks rise rapidly and nonlinearly with the rise in global average surface temperature.

    2. Recognising that the risks to human wellbeing of unchecked climate change are too high to accept, governments around the world have agreed to limit warming to 1.5-2.0°C (the 2015 Paris accord).

    3. The carbon budget approach is the most robust way to determine the rate of emissions reductions required to meet the goals of the Paris accord. This approach limits the cumulative amount of additional CO2 emissions that can be allowed consistent with the Paris accord.

    4. To meet a 2°C carbon budget, a very rapid phase-out of all fossil fuel usage by 2050 at the latest, or preferably earlier, is required. The 1.5°C carbon budget is smaller, requiring an even more rapid phase-out of fossil fuel usage.

    5. This means that the majority of the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground, unburned. Furthermore, no new fossil fuel developments, or extensions to existing fossil fuel mines or wells, can be allowed.”

    Coal-fired power is not just a threat to those people living nearby coal-fired power stations – ultimately, it’s an existential risk/threat to us all if we continue to burn coal. Professor Will Steffen says that we require “a very rapid phase-out of all fossil fuel usage by 2050 at the latest, or preferably earlier” – that’s humanity’s great challenge. Are we up to it?

  2. Hello.

    I refer you to
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-24/china-stone-coal-mine-qld-approval-reckless-conservationists-say/10551484

    The question then arises – how many thousands of people, is the Queensland government intending to murder?

    It eliminates the credibility of the ALP, regarding each of eliminating coall mining, and, clean energy, and, emissions reduction.

    Interesting that the news is not published until most people have cast their voted in the Victorian election, so they do not know how hostile to the environment, and, to people’s health, are the ALP – the industrial branch of the LNP.

  3. Hi Brett

    After seeing the recent comments by the current Liberal Party Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, my initial complete incredulity morphed for a split second into wondering whether I’d somehow been time-warped into an alternative universe of some kind.

    All jokes aside though, its rapidly becoming clear that ‘simple economics’ is probably the best line of persuasion to use these days, rather than lengthy arguments/debates about environmental virtue or the lack of it. The environmental arguments have been done to death, but you’ll never convince someone who isn’t open to be convinced.

    I’ve encountered the same attitude amongst some of my acquaintances too. They all firmly believe the ‘propaganda’ arguments of the coal brigade are ‘truth’. These days, my initial starting point with such people is along the lines of ‘Well… all I know is that my overall net electricity bill for the last X years has been zero, plus I’ve scored the odd cash refund now and then. How much have you spent over that time?’

    Such statements tend to get peoples attention, and can be modified as appropriate eg. ‘this quarter last year, my power bill was $1200, this year its down to $125, so yes – I’m really happy with my new solar system’

    That may or may not lead to some fruitful discussion, in which case I’m either as helpful as I can be, OR add further comments such as: ‘Yes, I know the Government is promising to lower electricity prices. With a bit of luck Australia might move from having probably the highest residential electricity prices in the entire world to having the second highest. My bills will still be zero though.’

    Given the state of what seems complete confusion at the Federal Government level at the moment on just about everything, I don’t think we can expect much in the way of ‘leadership’ from that segment of our political system at all for quite some time yet, so far as energy and environmental policies are concerned.

    Regular doses of ‘power bill shock’ plus ‘environmental disaster’ news items, plus rising cost of living tends to encourage people to make changes. Reality always wins in the end.

    Anyone who has a solar PV system can be somewhat a ‘mini-ambassador for solar’ when the opportunity arises, without being a fanatic about it.

    No need to complain too much these days about the politicians – the media are doing a great job of telling everyone already , and the recent Victorian State election sent some powerful messages too.

  4. Hi Des,

    You state:

    “…its rapidly becoming clear that ‘simple economics’ is probably the best line of persuasion to use these days, rather than lengthy arguments/debates about environmental virtue or the lack of it. The environmental arguments have been done to death, but you’ll never convince someone who isn’t open to be convinced.”

    You’ll never convince someone who isn’t open to be convinced, whether the arguments with coal mining and coal-fired electricity generation are about risks with pollution and health impacts, water resource depletion, climate change, economics, or long-term sustainability of energy supply. Facts are irrelevant to these people, particularly if they have vested interests in the status quo. For some, it’s not about facts, or science, or economics; it’s about faith and ideology.

    Demonstrating what can be achieved (including your example of electricity bill savings) is a powerful way of gaining attention and re-evaluating mindsets (for those with receptive minds).

    You also state:

    “Reality always wins in the end.”

    The recent IPCC SR1.5°C report on the impact of 1.5°C and 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels furnished a stark reminder to humanity about the existential threat posed by anthropogenic climate change. Either humanity chooses to heed the warnings and takes unprecedented effective, rapid action to dramatically reduce GHG emissions, or accepts and bears the consequences of inadequate action. Indeed, reality always wins in the end.

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