Australia remains among the world’s worst for sulfur dioxide air pollution and burning coal is to blame
SYDNEY, Oct 8 2020 - Australia has made no progress in combating sulfur dioxide air pollution from the country’s coal-burning power stations with Australia keeping its place as the 12th worst offender globally in 2019, the same position it held 12 months earlier.
The largest SO2 emission hotspots are a complex of mining operations with lead and copper smelters at Mount Isa in Queensland, followed by clusters of coal power stations at Lake Macquarie and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. These clusters are responsible for Australia emitting almost as much SO2 pollution as the United States and more than coal-dependent Poland, according to a new report by Greenpeace.
“In all four of Australia’s sulfur dioxide pollution hot spots, you find that coal-burning power stations are contributing to high levels of pollution that damage human health and the environment,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokesperson Jonathan Moylan said.
“Governments and corporations have known about the health and environmental risks and ignored them for years. The government should be helping power station operators switch to clean energy sources that don’t damage health, as well as imposing strict conditions to improve air quality until that switch occurs.”
Despite the problem of SO2 pollution being well established, there are currently no coal-burning power stations in Australia equipped with flue-gas desulfurization technology to lower SO2 emissions. Power stations in many other countries cannot operate without such technology but in Australia there is no uniform legal requirement for power station operators to protect the public from harmful sulfur dioxide pollution.
In fact, SO2 pollution limits are weak or non-existent in Australia and our system of SO2 pollution regulation lags behind China, the United States and the European Union.
A recent scientific report by Greenpeace Australia Pacific found that the health impact of all pollutants emitted from Australia’s coal burning power stations, including SO2, is 800 deaths each year. 
“People all over Australia 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,” Moylan said.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
Access the report here
Greenpeace Australia Pacific Communications Campaigner, Martin Zavan
0424 295 422 / [email protected]
Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)