Claims of excessive sulphur dioxide air pollution coming from Vales Point Power Station have been refuted by Delta Electricity, labelling them “sensationalist and misleading”.
Company spokesman, Steve Gurney, said “once again, we see activist groups seeking to create community fear based on selective and misrepresented data”.
The Nature Conservation Council last week released “new analysis” showing that sulphur dioxide in air quality tests at Wyee in 2018, had six times exceeded World Health Organisation pollution standards.
“Daily average concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in Wyee, near Vales Point coal-fired power station, have climbed sharply over the past three years, from one exceedance (of the WHO standard) in 2016 to two in 2017, and six in 2018,” the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) claims.
The Wyee air quality monitoring station is operated by Delta, and their self monitoring statistics are available on the Delta Electricity website, under Environmental Licences & Monitoring.
NCC is calling on state and federal environment ministers to strengthen air pollution standards to meet the WHO recommendations.
The National Environment Protection Council is currently undertaking a review of the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure which includes national standards for sulphur dioxide.
The NCC says the Australian standard for SO2 is 11 times weaker than the WHO recommendation, and even though state and federal environment ministers are reviewing SO2 standards, they are only proposing a standard that is still 2.5 times weaker than the WHO’s.
The Australian standard is 80ppb or 228 ug/m3 average over 24 hours, while the WHO standard is 7ppb or 20 ug/m3 average over 24 hours, according to the NCC.
Dr Ben Ewald, spokesman for Doctors for the Environment Australia, said high SO2 levels posed serious health risks and were associated with low birthweight in newborns, respiratory disease, diabetes and premature death, indicated by HealthStats NSW.
“People deserve to breathe clean air as a basic human right,” NCC Chief Executive, Chris Gambian, said.
“Our state and federal governments must strengthen air pollution standards to match the WHO guidelines and owners of coal power stations must clean up their act.
“Big businesses that run coal power plants like Vales Point have been dumping millions of tonnes of pollution into the air we breathe for years. This must stop.
“They must bring them in line with world’s best practice and sulphur dioxide emissions can be reduced by 96 percent by coal power stations installing pollution control devices called Flue Gas Desulfurisation.”
This technology is required in many countries, including the USA and Europe, but not in Australia, the NCC said.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokesman, Jonathan Moylan, says that according to Delta’s own environmental monitoring page, in June alone, the ageing Vales Point Power Station pumped out air pollution at rates six times higher than the legal limit for Chinese power stations and nine times higher than the European legal limit.
“Environment Minister, Matt Kean, has the power to prevent this ageing clunker pumping out toxic air pollution at levels that are illegal around the world, as well as championing the WHO guideline for sulphur dioxide in the current review of clean air standards,” Jonathon said.
Delta Electricity spokesman, Steve Gurney, says the difference between Australia and other parts of the world, such as the USA and Europe, is that Australia’s coal is typically low in sulphur, which leads to lower emissions of SO2.
“Even based on tighter European standards, the Vales Point Power Station emissions would meet those standards,” Gurney said.
“The sulphur scrubbers that some refer to are expensive to install and operate and are necessary in countries such as the USA which have higher sulphur content in coal and are needed to bring sulphur emissions down to the level that we in Australia have due to our low sulphur coal.
“The reality is that to introduce this technology would add cost to the average household electricity bill with very little environmental gain”.
Gurney said that, simply, Australia was able to control sulphur emissions by limiting the input (maximum sulphur content in coal) where as other countries had to control the output (scrubbing sulphur from the flu gasses).
Delta Electricity operates under the conditions of an Environmental Protection Licence which is regulated by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority.
Gurney says the claims by the Nature Conservation Council are “sensationalist and misleading”.
“Delta takes its duty of care to the local community and environment seriously and the SO2 emissions are well below current national standards and there have been no exceedences of the sulphur dioxide limits in Delta’s licence.
“This is another example of anti-power station activists seeking headlines in the media rather than engaging constructively in the scientifically rigorous review process,” Gurney said.
“The WHO guidelines relied on by the NCC make it clear that they are not air quality standards and that, when setting national standards, governments should consider their own local circumstances.
“Independent EPA analysis consistently shows that air quality on the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie is very good and among the best in NSW.
“It also concludes that levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide easily meet national standards.
“Specifically, it found that sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide met national standards in the lower Hunter during 2018.”
Gurney said the NCC relied on a report of Newcastle GP and environmental activist, Dr Ben Ewald, to support their claims about health effects, yet a scientific peer review has discredited this report, finding that it “estimated emissions and potential concentrations using a very rough approach” and that a “review of this approach indicated that it should be considered flawed and misleading, not based on good science”.
Gurney said, specifically to the NCC claims, the peer review also concluded that “the science does not support the quantification of the incidence of type 2 diabetes or low birth weights as health outcomes”.
“Once again,” Gurney said, “we see activist groups seeking to create community fear based on selective and misrepresented data, which is then related to conclusion in discredited reports.
“The actual data and air quality monitoring do not support these sensationalist and misleading claims by the NCC,” Gurney said.
Media release, Aug 21
Nature Conservation Council
Website HealthStats NSW
Media release, Aug 21
Media statement, Aug 22
Steve Gurney, Delta Electricity
Delta Electricity, Environmental Licences & Monitoring
Peer Review: Dr Ewald Report, Mar 6
Environmental Risk Sciences Pty Ltd
NSW Government Annual Air Quality Statement 2018
Journalist, Sue Murray