November 29 2016
Doctors have welcomed the interim report of the Senate inquiry into the retirement of coal-fired power stations which was tabled on Monday, however they say it doesn’t go far enough.
Medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia says the report fails to fully acknowledge that human health is an important factor in the need to close coal-fired power, and calls on the Turnbull Government to make an urgent phased closure of power stations across Australia on health grounds within the next decade.
“Closing power stations should be a public health priority- it’s estimated that 24 people die for every terawatt hour (TWh) of coal burnt, with children at particular risk from air pollution because they breathe more for their body weight than adults,” says DEA spokesperson Dr David Shearman.
“For example, air pollution from Hazelwood in Victoria, to be closed in 2017, causes about 18 deaths a year, around 1% of annual mortalities in Gippsland.”
DEA’s submission to the Senate inquiry which is mentioned in page eight of the report identifies three main pollutants- sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and invisible particulate matter (known as PM10 or PM2.5).
These pollutants cause asthma, chronic lung disease, and restricted lung growth in children. The small particles (PM2.5 and smaller) are associated with lung cancer and are also absorbed through the lungs into the blood stream to cause angina, heart attacks and strokes.
While pollution and its health hazards are greatest near power plants, particulates, with attached sulphur dioxide from the Hunter region, can travel 100km or more. This can contribute to pollution in towns and cities, as seen in Richmond, to the west of Sydney.
The order of closure should take into account the intensity of both carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution, and the rate at which renewable energy is encouraged to replace the plants.
Using this information the order for closure should be: Yallourn and Loy Yang in Victoria; Mt Piper, Liddell, Bayswater, Eraring and Vales Point in New South Wales; and Tarong in Queensland.
The interim report calls on the government to adopt a national plan to reform the electricity market; the orderly retirement of coal fired power generation; a pollution reduction objective consistent with Australia’s obligation to the Paris agreement. It should have added the obligation of air pollution reduction consistent with human health.
“The state and federal governments need to end an era of neglect and work with the community to develop a proper plan for the closure of each station based on health gains, as well as potential for industry development and full employment,” says Dr Shearman.
DEA Hon Secretary
Dr David Shearman, AM
08 8339 3972