PICTURESQUE Lake Macquarie has the dubious honour of recording the state’s highest levels of nitrogen oxides – a major airborne pollutant from coal-fired power stations.
The suburbs and bush surrounding Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake record the second-highest sulphur dioxide emissions, after Muswellbrook, and the fourth-highest emissions of particulate matter (PM10) in the state, after Singleton, Lithgow and Muswellbrook.
A report going to the city council tonight puts health costs from disease and deaths due to air pollution at an average $50million a year.
The area has no public air monitoring stations.
The council will use the figures, extracted from the National Pollutant Inventory, in its submission to a Senate inquiry into air pollution to argue for more attention to be paid to Lake Macquarie’s problems.
Air-quality debate in the region has typically focused on the Upper Hunter and Newcastle.
In the report, Lake Macquarie mayor Jodie Harrison calls on all levels of government to do further studies into the health effects and costs to communities from air pollution.
This includes probing the ‘‘dispersal patterns and health impacts of fine and ultra-fine particulates’’.
Lake Macquarie is home to two coal-fired power stations, Eraring in the west and Vales Point in the south.
Health authorities say breathing low levels of nitrogen oxides can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and exacerbate asthma.
Particulates and sulphur dioxide can exacerbate heart and lung diseases.
The council report says the lack of a ‘‘public ambient air quality monitoring station’’ in Lake Macquarie means pollution levels at ground height are not precisely known.
Though industry has some air quality monitors, there are concerns about their independence, and residents may be exposed to air pollutants above national health standards, the report says.
A Hunter New England Health spokesman questioned the report’s use of National Pollutant Inventory figures in the submission.
‘‘The inventory provides an estimation of the amount of certain chemicals released into the atmosphere due to industrial activity,’’ the spokesman said.
‘‘As a result of local topography and weather patterns, there is no reliable correlation between the estimated quantity of chemicals released into the atmosphere and the quality of the air that is breathed by residents in a local area.’’
Cr Harrison said this was why Lake Macquarie should be a priority for a public ambient air-quality monitoring station.
She said the federal government should also promote a transition to renewable energy and remove tax incentives for fossil-fuel use, which caused air pollution.
‘‘Australia’s landscape has exceptional potential for moving to a clean-energy future with increased reliance on solar, wind and other energy sources,’’ Cr Harrison said.
Cr Rosmairi Okeno, of Mirrabooka, said she had high dust levels in her home.
‘‘I see it in the sun rays – all the particulates hanging in the air.’’
Ms Okeno said coal-fired power would become an outdated energy source.
‘‘We’re looking at moving to other energy sources in the future but, as far as I am concerned, nuclear will never be an option,’’ she said.
The Hunter is expected to be high on the agenda of the Senate inquiry, which will be held this year.
An Environment Protection Authority spokeswoman said the NSW government opened a new air-quality monitoring station at Wyong last December.
It measures oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and sulphur dioxide.
The EPA considered air quality recorded at the Wyong station to be ‘‘broadly representative’’ of the wider region.
The spokeswoman said industry in NSW operated under conditions designed to prevent pollution.