Community workshop on the health impacts of coal-fired power stations

Tip trucks (right) depositing coal on one of the outdoor mounds at Vales Point power stationTip trucks (right) depositing coal on one of the outdoor mounds at Vales Point power station

Environmental Justice Australia will hold a community workshop at Wyee Community Hall on April 19, on the health impacts of coal-fired power stations.

Researcher and Community Organiser, Dr James Wheelan, said Environmental Justice Australia was hosting workshops in communities where Australia’s largest coal- fired power stations were located. The workshop will look at how much pollution comes from the Vales Point and Eraring power stations, how the power stations affect community health in the region, and what is being done to control pollution by the power station operators and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Dr Wheelan will address the workshop along with Mr Mike Campbell, for the Community Environment Network, and Dr Ben Ewald, from Doctors for the Environment Australia.

“In the last couple of months, we have become aware of serious concerns that relate to the environmental management of Vales Point,” Dr Wheelan said. He said the issue of coal being dumped at the power station by dump trucks (as previously reported by Wyong Regional Chronicle) was ongoing. “I was there on April 5 to inspect the power station and while we were there, we spoke to the EPA on the phone to say that the issue was ongoing. “There were bulldozers pushing coal around outdoors and there was no watering, even though the assurance Delta Electricity gave the EPA was that there would be watering,” he said.

Dr Wheelan said he understood the recent wet weather meant coal dust being blown by the wind was not an issue on that particular occasion, “but it is our observation that the EPA is simply not policing the power station as it should be, and this is the only power station we are aware of in Australia where coal is being dumped by trucks and pushed around by bulldozers. “If the power station was in a remote location, you might get away with it, but to do it in a highly urbanised environment with hundreds of houses less than 1km away is unacceptable,” he said.

Environmental Justice Australia has also detected what it believes to be errors in Delta Electricity’s reporting to the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI). All power stations and big polluters in Australia report their emissions to their State environmental agency (the EPA in NSW) and the information is then collated at a Commonwealth level into the NPI. “It appears Vales Point has understated fi ne particle pollutant emissions by a factor of 13,” Dr Wheelan said. “They claim to have emitted only 12,000kg of PM2.5 in the past 12 months, whereas the previous year they had reported 130,000kg. “You would appreciate there is no way that they could reduce their emissions by that amount.

“Moreover, if you look at all the other big power stations, they generally report hundreds of thousands of kilograms of PM2.5. “There is no way it is accurate, we have reported it to the EPA and it is being investigated. “The simple explanation is that it is an error, but this is a national online database of emissions and it is important that it is an accurate database. “Why have two levels of government not picked up the error?”

“It is entirely misleading to misinform the population living close to this power station.” Dr Wheelan said he believed the real PM2.5 emissions figure should be hundreds of thousands of kilograms. Vales Point power station has capacity to generate 1,320 megawatts of electricity, Lake Liddell (Vic) generates 2,000 megawatts, it is burning the same black coal and it emits 173,000kg of PM2.5. “The numbers leap off the page at you. “We have reported two power stations for misreporting, including Vales Point. “Particle pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of more than 3,000 Australians each year.” Environment Justice Australia has called for a meeting with NSW Environment Minister, Ms Gabrielle Upton, to discuss the EPA’s response to the problems it has detected at Vales Point.

Source: Interview, Apr 6, 2017 James Wheelan, Environmental Justice Australia, Jackie Pearson, journalist