Much of Australia’s population is in the grip of an air pollution crisis caused by emissions from coal-burning power stations. In the present study, we find that due to this toxic pollution, hundreds of Australians die every year, and even more suffer from other severe health impacts throughout their lives. We estimate that each year, air pollution from coal-burning power stations is responsible for 800 premature deaths, 850 cases of low birth weight in newborns and 14,000 asthma attacks in children and young adults aged 5-19. The death toll is eight times greater than the average annual casualty number from all natural disasters combined, and still twice as high as the exceptionally high number of deaths in the recent 2019/2020 bushfire season attributed to smoke inhalation.
Australia still operates twenty-two coal-burning power stations and, despite being a developed country, some of these are among the oldest and most polluting in the world. This report uses an atmospheric dispersion model to estimate near-surface pollutant concentrations resulting from Australia’s coal-burning power stations which operate in five groups near Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Rockhampton and Sydney. We find that the pollution from the coal-burning power station worsens air quality over large areas spanning hundreds of kilometres, travelling far beyond the immediate vicinity of the power stations themselves. While communities closest to the power stations - mostly rural - suffer the greatest per capita effects, large population centres also experience considerable pollution from the power stations.
In addition to air pollutant concentrations this report also estimates deposition of the potent neurotoxin mercury. Our model results show that mercury deposition rates in some areas affected by the coal-burning power stations are double the already high modern background deposition rate and exceed the pre-industrial natural background rate by orders of magnitude.