Delay neglects health

Long term delays to a comprehensive air quality monitoring upgrade of brown coal generator emissions could have disastrous consequences for the health of Latrobe Valley residents, according to the head of a Senate inquiry.

Victorian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, who chaired the Senate inquiry into the impact on health of air quality in Australia, has labelled the current monitoring of microscopic particles emitted by the Valley’s power stations as “hopelessly inadequate”.

Last week, Mr Di Natale warned further inaction would be neglectful of public health.

“The committee accepts that coal, throughout its lifecycle, is a source of air pollution that is harmful to human health. Those harms manifest themselves in individual discomfort and at a cost to private and public purses,” the committee stated in its recently released report. The debate around air quality in the Valley has largely focused on the inability of local air monitoring stations to pick up ultra-fine particulate matter (smaller than 2.5 micron) which escapes a power station’s emission filtering processes.

“PM 2.5 particles are closely associated with coal combustion and can get very deep in lungs, and have been found to be responsible for asthma, emphysema and currently we are doing zero monitoring on that front,” Mr Di Natale said.

“We have got to start increasing the amount of testing we do, and it needs to be independent of current industry monitoring.”

The heightened concerns come after a European study released last month, funded by the European Union, found prolonged exposure at all levels of particulate exposure increased the likelihood of lung cancer.

The Latrobe Valley Air Monitoring Network, which is funded by the power industry, operates two air monitoring stations in Rosedale South and Jeeralang Hill, while the Environment Protection Authority operates a Traralgon station.

All monitor sulphur dioxide, particle matter and ozone.

However the monitoring stations are only capable of monitoring particles larger than PM 2.5

In an effort to address the knowledge gap, the EPA concluded a 12-month monitoring trial in February at a Morwell East site.

While the data is still yet to be made public, in its submission to the Senate inquiry, the EPA indicated preliminary results showed the data met air quality objectives and reporting standards set by the National Environment Protection Council.

However Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group’s Dan Caffrey said with no safe minimum levels for PM 2.5 exposure, the EPA’s preliminary findings would be of little comfort to local residents.

“We are calling for those details to be released as soon as possible – we want accuracy and transparency and we want to be assured that our health is not being affected adversely,” Mr Caffrey said.

Among its recommendations, the Senate inquiry report called for a dedicated health impact assessments process for all new coal projects, and a process assessing cumulative impacts of coal mine developments on local residents’ health.

However Mr Di Natale said it would be up to the incoming Federal Government to determine what degree it followed the report’s recommendations.