Environmental and health groups are calling for urgent action to combat air pollution in the latest clean air report commissioned by Environmental Justice Australia.
The report estimates up to almost 5000 Australians die each year from exposure to air pollution, over four times the 2020 national road toll.
A 2020 report by Greenpeace found that 785 deaths each year are attributable to pollution emitted by coal-fired power stations.
EJA campaigner Max Smith said the Australian standards for measuring air pollution fall short of World Health Organisation standards.
“We have a standard for sulfur dioxide that is 11 times higher than the World Health Organisation guideline,” he said.
EJA’s report found coal-fired power stations are major emitters of toxic pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, that can be damaging to the lungs and heart.
Victoria’s Latrobe Valley is home to the state’s three active coal-fired power stations.
The Yallourn, Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley are ranked as the second most toxic emitters in Australia and 49th in the world.
The Environmental Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) stated on its website that sulfur dioxide levels in Victoria are “usually low” and consistently rated air quality in the Latrobe Valley as “good”.
Max Smith said Australia’s poor air pollution standards mean the EPA’s monitoring does not adequately measure air pollution.
“Well before you reach that standard there are going to be severe health impacts experienced amongst the population that are experiencing that poor air quality,” he said.
“The problem is that Australian power stations and those in the Latrobe Valley are licensed to pollute.
“They have a license to harm communities.”
Voices of the Valley is a community group established in response to the effects of air pollution in the Latrobe Valley.
Its president Wendy Farmer said her group has found several adverse health trends in the Latrobe Valley communities.
Ms Farmer said Latrobe Valley residents have a life expectancy two to four years shorter than average Victorians.
“The question is why, and the only thing different really in the Latrobe Valley is the industry,” she said.
“There’s a lot of cases of asthma, respiratory disease, lung diseases, heart attacks, you name it.”
Ms Farmer said greater regulation is required to ensure pollution from coal-fired power stations is limited while the community transitions away from the coal industry.
Max Smith said pollution control is affordable and available, and governments have the responsibility to implement change, not communities.
“No-one should ever have to choose between their job and the health of themselves and their family and their community.”
Yallourn Power Station photo source