Air pollution from burning coal kills 800 people in Australia each year and makes thousands more ill

SYDNEY, Aug 25 2020 - Air pollution from Australia’s ageing and increasingly unreliable coal-burning power stations is responsible for 800 premature deaths, 14,000 asthma symptoms among children and 850 cases of low birth weight in newborns each year, according to a ground-breaking report by Greenpeace.

The report Lethal Power: How burning coal is killing people in Australia, marks the first time the health impacts of burning coal for electricity have been scientifically assessed at a national level and the results are alarming.

“Australians all over the country are paying for electricity with their lives and health, even if they don’t use power from burning coal or live near a power station,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Campaigner, Jonathan Moylan said.

“Now that we know the devastating toll that coal is taking on Australian lives and livelihoods, governments have no excuse not to act. We need urgent action from state Environment Ministers to tackle dangerous air pollution.”

“It would shock many Australians to learn that coal-burning power stations in Australia are more weakly regulated and pollute more than would be allowed in China or the European Union, and that while the greatest risks are for nearby communities, our major cities are impacted by pollution that could be brought under control if politicians act now.”

“People have died and suffered from preventable diseases needlessly for decades,” report author and environmental epidemiologist, Professor Hilary Bambrick said.

“Now that the adverse health impacts of burning coal are clear, governments must come up with a plan to replace our ageing and unreliable coal burning power stations with clean energy solutions as quickly as possible.” 

Former Federal Liberal Party leader Dr John Hewson described the findings as “deeply concerning” and urged political leaders to heed the scientific warnings and to seriously address the problem, in the face of overwhelming evidence.

“The evidence is in; Air pollution from burning coal kills. Governments of all stripes must now come up with a plan to ensure coal is completely phased out and replaced with renewable energy as quickly as possible, with regional plans to prepare communities for the economic adjustment. This transition should be the urgent policy focus, ”he said.

“Dealing with this invisible killer will provide business opportunities in the switch to clean energy sources like wind and solar and protect public health.”

Australia still operates twenty-two coal-burning power stations, some of which are among the oldest and most polluting in the world.

“What greater impetus can there be for politicians to act than to safeguard the health of all Australians, including our most vulnerable?” epidemiologist Professor Fiona Stanley said.

“The death and illness outlined in this report were not caused by some Chernobyl like mishap. Death and disease are the tragic byproducts of coal-fired power generation, by design. But we no longer need to sacrifice lives to coal power when we can generate all the electricity we need from clean and renewable sources like wind and solar.”



Read and download the report here 

The alarming results in Lethal Power follow a significant study from the Director of Environmental Health at NSW Health which showed that power station pollution costs $43/MWh, or more than the wholesale cost of electricity, as well as a recent study from the Head of Medicine at the University of Sydney which demonstrated that heart attacks can be triggered by pollution levels that are half of the typical Australian exposure.

Report author Dr Aidan Farrow works at the Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research at the University of Hertfordshire. His research interests focus on how to develop, couple and apply useful numerical models of the wider atmospheric system in terms of their complexity, resolution and uncertainty.  Studying at Bristol University he looked at linking hydrology, vegetation and atmospheric models during his PhD to investigate Quaternary African climate change. Now Aidan works on Air Quality models and their skill across different scales. Aidan’s background is in Earth Sciences, having studied Environmental Geoscience at Edinburgh University.

Report contributor Lauri Myllvirta is a coal and air pollution expert and works as Lead Analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Lauri started his advocacy career as a Research Assistant, at the Air and Water Protection Association of Porvoo River and Eastern Ususimaa. Lauri’s academic studies include degrees in Political Science, Environmental Science and Economics.

Report contributor, Professor Hilary Bambrick is Head of QUT’s School of Public Health and Social Work, is an environmental epidemiologist and bioanthropologist whose work centres on climate adaptation for health, particularly in more vulnerable populations. She led the health impacts assessment for Australia’s national climate change review (The Garnaut Review) and consults for government and international organisations. 

Dr John Hewson is an economist, a Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University and former leader of the federal Liberal Party. Dr Hewson has a number of roles in business, academia and the media and has been a longtime advocate of seizing the opportunities offered by taking action to combat climate change, starting businesses in garbage recycling, energy efficient lightbulbs, green data centres, converting sugar cane into electricity and ethanol, producing ultra pure graphite for lithium-ion batteries and heat storage and renewable energy.

Fiona Stanley AC FAA FASSA FAHMS is a Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Western Australia, Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne and Founding Director and Patron of the Telethon Kids Institute. She is a scientific advisor to Doctors for the Environment, a UNICEF Ambassador and was made Australian of the Year in 2003.



Greenpeace Australia Pacific Communications Campaigner, Martin Zavan

0424 295 422

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