Media release: Medics end date for Australia’s coal-fired power plants

Doctors are calling for the phase out Australia’s coal-fired power stations within the next 10 years to reduce the numbers of avoidable deaths and illnesses, in response to a damning report released today.

Medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia which includes a Nobel laureate, recipients of the Australia of the Year award and other leading health professionals is alarmed at the findings of a report by Environmental Justice Australia

The report finds that several of the nation’s power plants emit more air pollution than those in China, Europe and the US; have lower emission standards; and fail to use readily available pollution reduction technology.

DEA Honorary Secretary and spokesperson Dr David Shearman AM says, “It’s deeply concerning to find that mercury limits for some NSW power stations are 666 times higher than the US limits, while emissions from the five NSW power stations account for 87% of Sydney’s sulfur dioxide pollution.

“Our elected representatives need an urgent plan to close these heavily polluting dinosaurs.

“HELE or so-called high-efficiency, low emissions designs are the flavour of the month for the cheer-leaders of the coal industry. But the benefits of this technology are marginal at best.

“HELE reduces toxic emissions by only 14% from existing technology– this is not enough to fix the problems either of toxic air pollution or of greenhouse gas emissions of which this industry is a major contributor.”

The closure of coal-fired power plants will help stabilize climate change, whose impacts we are already seeing through extreme weather events, which the world’s leading medical journal The Lancet has described as the greatest threat to health this century.

It will also improve air quality for millions of Australians.

Power plants emit pollutants that cause inflammation in the lungs which can lead to 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. Children are at particular risk from air pollution because they breathe more for their body weight than adults.

While pollution from power plants is greatest for communities who live close by, people living in towns and cities are not immune. Pollution can travel 100km or more.

Says Dr Shearman: “Why are we permitting these plants to emit more than 30 toxic substances to the air we breathe?

“It’s high time that both state and federal governments get their act together and make the transition to clean power sources such as wind, solar and other alternatives.

DEA says the closure of power plants should be based on the level of pollutants: Yallourn and Loy Yang in Victoria; Mt Piper, Liddell, Bayswater, Eraring and Vales Point in New South Wales; Tarong in Queensland.

During this phase-in period, there should be mandatory laws for power plants to install pollution reduction technologies, which would have immediate health benefits.

DEA has also recently called for load-based licensing system to properly reflect the total cost of production to the public (including externalities), thus providing an economic incentive for polluters to improve processes, select higher quality fuel, or to close poorly performing power plants.


DEA Media contacts

Dr David Shearman AM, 0481 154 805
DEA Hon. Secretary and Emeritus Professor of Medicine University of Adelaide

Dr John Van Der Kallen, 0431 535 742
Physician practicing in Newcastle

Dr John Iser, 0428 599 025
General physician and gastroenterologist

Dr David King, 0424 068 797
Brisbane GP, a senior lecturer with the Discipline of General Practice, University of Queensland

Dr Michael Williams, 0419 673 547
Paediatrician in Mackay

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