The Nature Conservation Council (NCC) says levels of sulfur-dioxide exceeded World Health Organisation (WHO) standards hundreds of times in Hunter.
The high levels of SO2 pollution were found through the NCC's analysis of NSW Government air-quality data between May 2015 and May 2019 that saw the levels exceeded 336 times across New South Wales.
“These figures are shocking, but what’s even more shocking is that the Australian standard for SO2 pollution is 11 times weaker than those recommended by the WHO, and weaker than levels set by the EU, US and China,” NCC CEO Kate Smolski said.
The NCC has found that high SO2 levels are associated with low birthweight in newborns, respiratory disease and premature death. SO2 also helps form highly hazardous fine particles (PM2.5) that are associated with increase death rates and a range of diseases.
The primary source of SO2 is the burning of fossil fuels, especially emissions from coal-fired power stations and vehicle emissions.
Between May 2015 and May 2019, levels of SO2 detected at 17 air-quality monitoring stations in the Hunter, Central Coast and Sydney exceeded the WHO standard (average 7 parts per billion over 24 hours) 336 times.
In Muswellbrook there was 120 exceedences, in Singleton there were 19 and in the Newcastle Port area there was 180 exceedences of SO2 levels.
“It’s time our governments raised emissions standards to match the World Health Organisation’s and forced companies that operate coal-fired power stations to clean up their act,” Kate Smolski said.
“State and federal governments must protect people’s right to breathe healthy air, but at the moment that is simply not happening."
“Billion-dollar corporations like AGL, Origin and Energy Australia have been dumping millions of tonnes of pollution into the air we breathe."
“We call on the federal government to strengthen pollution standards to bring them in line with worlds best practice. We also call on the Berejiklian government to conduct a public inquiry into all the health impacts of the state’s coal-fired power stations and plan an orderly transition from coal to clean energy.”
Image credit: Grant Broadcasters/Jessica Rouse