Sunday, April 9, 2017

My Shire Notes: Things That Keep Me Awake At Night (Director's Cut)

Bayswater Power Station, Upper Hunter, New South Wales)

Every week in our local (and slowly dying) paper an Upper Hunter Shire councillor writes a column entitled 'Shire Notes.' Given that there are nine councillors, I get (yes I was elected last September 2016) a turn every 9 weeks. Here are my latest ones.


Last week (Wednesday 29th March 2017) I attended the ‘Power Stations and Our Health Community Workshop’ held at the Upper Hunter Conservatorium of Music in Muswellbrook. 

It was chilling. 

According to Dr Ben Ewald from Doctors of the Environment the Upper Hunter community pays a high cost for the polluted air billowing out from our coal-fired power stations. We pay through heart disease, lung disease and asthma. There are no safe levels of pollution and both Bayswater and Liddell are health hazards to our community.

Despite the Australian government allowing coal-fired power stations to belch out a much higher level of polluting emissions than the World Health Organisation advises, Muswellbrook’s air quality shows air pollution levels beyond even our own paltry standard. 

There are five monitoring sites in the Upper Hunter, and the data collected tells us we have a problem.

The main pollutants from Bayswater and Liddell are sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and small invisible particulate matter referred to as PM2.5 (product of combustibles), and they are absorbed through our lungs into our bloodstream where they can cause angina, heart attacks and strokes. Unsurprisingly, children are at an extreme risk from this toxic mix of air pollution.

Two AGL representatives at the workshop noted that Liddell is due for retirement in 2022 and Bayswater in 2035. But what concerns Doctors for the Environment is that closure schedules all too often pit commercial interests against health damage, and consequently power stations are retired first on economic grounds rather than health.

Bearing in mind that our power stations could actually close earlier than forecast, Doctors for the Environment raised the spectre that Australian governments are ill-prepared in creating new jobs and new industries for the inevitable transition away from coal-fired power stations. It is all a great worry.

The proposed Scone Bypass is also causing me concern.

The loss of part of the Bill Rose Sporting Complex, the impact on the Golf Club and White Park, the unsightliness of a significantly raised road through the floodplain area of Parson’s Gully and Kingdon Ponds … how is any of this going to improve our town?

The apparent minimal community discussion RMS have had (or not had) on the environmental and social impacts of the bypass alarm me. Whilst the removal of trucks from our high street has been flagged as a significant driver for the bypass, will we not also be removing essential traffic required for business along Kelly Street?

Yes Council is working hard with local stakeholders to have our town ready when the bypass is complete but this project is essentially about motorway building and the moving of freight on a national integrated system of super roads.

Today’s roads have morphed into mobile warehouses, and Scone bypass will be an imposed environmental grievance with lasting impacts on our town.



  1. Why on earth doesn't sunny OZ opt for SOLAR?

    Here in Québec we use hydroelectricity; in terms of emissions a very clean energy, although there are adverse environmental impacts, especially due to Hydro-Québec's commitments to huge-scale projects (mostly to sell energy to the US) when we have more than enough electricity for households, industry and business, and electrification of transports here. These include plans to destroy a lovely valley of the type you've seen in adjacent Vermont if you followed Bernie's campaign at all, and of course: dispossession of Indigenous peoples (need that one even be stated?)

    Indeed, the much vaunted "just-in-time" consists in using the roads as mobile warehouses; not even the rails which would be less polluting, but perhaps not always quite as speedy at all times and in all places.

    1. It's so utterly depressing, and exhausting ... sigh

  2. As you rightly point out Muswellbrook’s air quality occasionally exceeds current PM2.5 standards. There is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5 - fine particles less than 2.5 millionth. PM2.5 is the most health-hazardous air pollutant that penetrate the deepest recesses of our lungs where they can enter the bloodstream and transport toxins to every organ of the body, including the brain. PM2.5 pollution increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung diseases, cancers, cot deaths, Alzheimer's, asthma attacks and autism.

    As part of the process to revise air quality standards, government-commissioned research into the health costs found that "The health costs of air pollution are dominated by its effects on mortality. These in turn are dominated by the effects of airborne particulate matter (PM), and especially particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5).*

    A CSIRO led investigation showed that PM2.5 levels in Muswellbrook double or triple every winter. Chemical fingerprinting of the pollution showed that 62% of Muswelbrook's PM2.5 comes from a small proportion of households that use wood heaters - see Other towns such as Armidale have worse pollution because up to half of households use wood heating -

    The best way to counter the inevitable closure of mines and power stations is to attract new employment. Genex Power in Qld is converting a disused mine into a pumped hydro plant fuelled by renewable energy.

    Cleaning up Muswellbrook's obvious woodsmoke pollution problem will also help attract new residents as well as generate substantial benefits of the entire community. Launceston's successful woodsmoke program reduced wintertime deaths from respiratory disease by 28% and cardiovascular disease deaths by 20%. Year round, for men, the reductions were 23% (respiratory), 18% (cardiovascular) and 11.4% (all deaths). The focus was on explaining the health effects of woodsmoke pollution and replacing wood stoves with non-polluting heating.
    Modern, efficient heater-airconditioners have superseded wood stoves and natural gas as the most cost-effective heating. They can deliver 5 or 6 times as much heat to the home as they use in electric power and are effective at low temperatures, providing 3 to 4.5 times as much heat even when the temperature outside is 10 °C (10 degrees below freezing). They are affordable (cheaper than buying a wood heater), cause less global warming (zero in households that use green power) and have lower running costs than buying firewood.
    A NSW EPA Consultancy report identified 3 extremely cost-effective measures – not permitting new log-burning heaters to be installed, requiring existing heaters to be removed when houses are sold, and requiring a small ‘polluter-pays’ annual licence for wood heaters that could help fund education and home insulation programs and replacing wood heating with non-polluting alternatives. These 3 measures were estimated to reduce the $8 billion health cost (over 20 years) of woodsmoke in NSW by at least 75%.
    Our cities suffer from wood heater pollution because current laboratory tests of wood stoves bear little or no relationship to real-life emissions. Even a carefully operated brand new Australian wood heater emits more PM2.5 per year than 1,000-2,000 petrol cars or 200-400 diesels. The first step on the road to cleaner air and a healthy community is for you and your fellow councillors to prevent the problem from getting worse by not allow new wood heaters to be installed, and at the same time encourage residents to switch to non-polluting heating.

  3. The NSW EPA-commissioned research into how to reduce woodsmoke pollution in Muswellbrook and Singleton. A major barrier to clean air was that many wood stove owners incorrectly blame the mines and the power stations for the pollution. Residents are therefore likely to continue to suffer from unhealthy pollution until Council takes decisive action to cut through the confusion by not allowing new wood heaters to be installed.

    Cigarette smoking at work wasn't taken seriously until it became illegal to expose fellow workers to this pollution. The same is true for woodsmoke, except that tests on mice and bacteria showed that woodsmoke caused 12 to 30 times as many mutations as the same amount of cigarette smoke. The main toxins in cigarette cigarette smoke are chemicals known as PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Burning 15 kg of wood (an evening's heat) creates more health-hazardous PAH than in a quarter of a million cigarettes.

    Once Launceston residents understood what woodsmoke was doing to their health, the vast majority were only too happy to switch to non-polluting heating - they now enjoy have 28% fewer respiratory and 20% fewer cardiovascular deaths in winter.

    it would be great to see the same happening in your area. But this will never happen if you and your fellow councillors continue to allow the installation of new wood heaters with greater average PM2.5 emissions per year than 1,000 petrol cars. If Council doesn't treat the 62% of Muswellbrook's wintertime PM2.5 pollution with the seriousness it deserves, neither will the the small percentage of households in urban areas that burn wood for heating and are causing this major source of health-hazardous air pollution.

    For more information see the peer-reviewed research paper: What makes a successful woodsmoke-reduction program - published last year in 'Air Quality and Climate Change'

  4. Spam!

    And although I live in the opposite hemispheres, I do know how very far Perth is from Upper Hunter Shire!