Coal connection for Australia’s most polluted postcodes

Close up of coal mound with industrial machinery in background (methane)
Image: Shutterstock

A report from the Australian Conservation Foundation has revealed the 10 most polluted postcodes in Australia–six of which are home to a coal-fired power station or coal mine.

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).

Related article: Why we need to talk about a ‘just transition’ from coal

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,” Australian Conservation Foundation economy and democracy program manager Matthew Rose said.

“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 per cent, its sulphur dioxide emissions increased by 29 per cent and its NOx emissions increased by 17 per cent.

“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,” Rose said.

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

Related article: Greens to levy coal exports in climate plan

“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.”

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.

Image: Australian Conservation Foundation